For Jireh and Alon Williams, the extension of Israel’s airport closure means a loss of income, a lapse in health insurance and juggling the needs of their 2-year-old son while they remain in limbo stranded outside of their country.
Jireh and the couple’s son flew out of Israel in December to visit her family in South Africa. Alon joined the family there in January — days before Israel closed Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Now, their two months of health insurance has lapsed and they are moving their plane tickets yet again since the Israeli government voted yesterday to extend the airport shutdown for the second time — even to its own citizens — for at least another two weeks until March 6.
“It doesn’t make sense: You are a citizen, they have to bring you back. It feels unfair that your own country won’t let you come back and make money and feed your family,” Jireh Williams told ALL ISRAEL NEWS from Cape Town. “It’s the same with the lockdowns. I don’t understand how the government can tell you you’re not allowed to feed your family."
"How can you not come home? It’s their responsibility to make sure you are at least able to come home," Williams said.
Israelis are locked in as well as out. This unprecedented closure applies to citizens who were planning to fly out of the country.
Announcing the most severe airport closure in the country up till that point, Netanyahu boasted in January that “no nation has done what we are about to do — we are hermetically sealing the country” in a bid to keep out mutations of the virus and control the skyrocketing rate of infection.
When the government decided to close Ben-Gurion International Airport on Jan. 25, Israel was in the throes of its worst month of the COVID-19 pandemic. The country registered one-third of all COVID deaths in 10 months in January alone.
Yet, at the same time, Israel was — and still is — leading the world in its vaccination rate. The country has so far seen more than two-thirds of those eligible get at least their first shot including some 89% of Israelis over 50 who received the first dose and 70% both shots, according to KAN broadcaster.
Even back in January, just a month into the campaign, Israel had already vaccinated 30% of its population.
With these figures, why is Israel one of the few, if only, countries to shut its airport even to its own citizens? And why the need to extend the airport closure again this time until March 6?
It is mind boggling that despite three draconian national lockdowns and the warp-speed vaccine campaign, Israel has yet to reopen the country. Even today the infection rate is above 6% with a daily average of 4,000 new cases. Israel has 903 serious COVID patients, including 297 on ventilators, and a death toll of 5,509.
The last nationwide lockdown was imposed on Dec. 27 and has been extended four times. Some segments of the economy on Feb. 7. Some schools and businesses still remain closed and no foreigners have been allowed into Israel in almost an entire year, since March 2020.
The exceptions committee will consider emergency requests to fly in or out and has allowed six flights for new immigrants from Ethiopia, France, Russia, Ukraine and South America in the meantime.
When the Williams family can get back into Israel, they will be subject to strict quarantine requirements including COVID testing before and after their flight and then up to two weeks in a state-run quarantine facility, something Williams is not looking forward to with a 2 year old.
But worse is the test, especially with a toddler.
"I'm almost tempted to just stay a whole two weeks in quarantine just so they don't have to put a Q-tip up my kid's nose," rather than take another test after 10 days and get an early release, Williams told us.
In any case, many families are in the same position as the Williams with no clarity as to when they can come back to the country and resume their normal lives.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS