Secret operation brings Israelis stranded in Morocco back home

In a complicated operation, Israelis stuck in Morocco because of the coronavirus were finally brought home.

al-monitor Israelis who had been stuck in Morocco return to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 14, 2020. Photo by YOUTUBE/ynet.

May 14, 2020

Twenty-six Israelis arrived home May 14 after almost three months in Morocco. Exhausted, they thanked all the parties involved in the operation to bring them back.

Several weeks ago, a few dozen Israeli tourists and businesspeople— both Jews and Arabs — who had been spending time in Morocco were trying to return home. At the time, Israel’s Foreign Ministry was engaged across the globe in operations to rescue Israeli tourists stuck because of the coronavirus pandemic. The ministry helped bring back Israelis from Costa Rica, Peru and Colombia, from Australia and New Zealand, and even from Kenya.

Morocco, however, presented an especially complicated case. The North African country has no diplomatic ties with Israel. Israeli citizens are allowed to visit and can get a visa upon arrival. But the Israeli El Al carrier cannot land there.

A surprising solution was proposed by the United Arab Emirates, which offered to take the Israelis stranded in Morocco on a plane it was going bring home its own nationals on. Jerusalem agreed immediately, but then Rabat blocked the initiative. Moroccan authorities were angered that they were not consulted in advance about the joint flight. And so, the Israelis stayed put.

The Israeli group got desperate. Morocco imposed confinement in several cities, first until April 29, and then prolonging it until May 20. Thousands of people were detained and fined for not respecting social distancing restrictions. By mid-April, 12 members of the Moroccan Jewish community died of COVID-19; this is a huge number when it comes to a community of just 2,000 to 3,000 people. The community apparently was hit when the virus was unknowingly brought to Morocco from France by French-Moroccan Jews who attended a grand wedding in early March in Morocco's coastal city of Agadir.

Some Israelis also died from COVID-19 in Morocco. The matter was brought to the attention of a former Jerusalem mayor, Knesset member Nir Barkat, who decided to find a solution at all cost. Barkat contacted Israeli-American Miriam Adelson, who is the publisher of the Israel Hayom newspaper, who agreed to help. Israel’s National Security Council also got involved. The original idea was to fly the Israelis directly to Tel Aviv from Casablanca, but this did not work out. In the end, the Israelis were allowed to take an Air France flight to Paris, even though Paris-Tel Aviv flights had essentially ended. From Paris, a private plane charted by Adelson brought the Israelis home.

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