With the new COVID travel rules, immigrant families have returned to the starting point

For the first time in 20 months, starting Monday, some foreigners will be able to enter Israel without special permission to do so. However, for many immigrants and their families abroad, development does not represent an improvement in their ability to see themselves, quite the opposite.

According to the new rules, incoming travelers must have been inoculated with a coronavirus vaccine recognized by the World Health Organization for at least 14 days and no more than 180 days at the time they lived in the country. Alternatively, they must have received a booster at least 14 days prior.

Recovered persons must have done so within the previous six months or have received at least one injection, verified by a certificate of digital recovery.

As the new scheme comes into effect, all those who do not meet the required immunization criteria will be effectively excluded from Israel. This includes first-degree relatives of citizens and permanent residents who until November 1 had the right to enter Israel provided they were vaccinated or had recovered, without a time limit.

Booster vaccines are available only in certain countries and often only for populations considered at risk, such as the elderly or people with underlying health problems.

This means that, once again, thousands of parents, children and siblings of Israeli citizens are trapped outside the country.

The departure lounge at the nearly empty Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on January 25, 2021 (credit: YOSSI ALONI / FLASH90)

After the families were separated for about a year starting in the spring of 2020, both the Population and Immigration Authority of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs established procedures to allow these individuals to receive special approval to enter the country.

While the system was clouded by limitations, such as the fact that grandparents were not included in the scheme and the lack of proper instructions and delays, it still ensured that many could visit loved ones.

On Monday, these procedures were canceled, although as of Sunday, the forms were still online, and the permits already granted were automatically canceled.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirmed that there was no plan to revamp the system to allow a permit to be granted to those who do not meet the criteria.

According to the Population Authority website, the only foreign relatives of an Israeli citizen who can enter are the parents of a married couple or for a funeral (in this case, they are only allowed 24 hours in the country).
Births, bar / bat mitzvahs, other events or special circumstances are not included in the “circumstances in which the admission of foreigners who do not comply with the Green Pass regulations will be authorized in an unusual way and after the examination”, as listed by the Population Authority.

“Israel is taking a step back,” said Rabbi Dov Lipman, founder of Yad L’Olim, an organization that helps immigrants navigate the Israeli bureaucracy. Lipman has been lobbying authorities on behalf of families and assisting applicants who allege special circumstances.

“The government is saying that everything is opening up, but along the way, they have closed the door to many,” he said.

According to Lipman, even persuading authorities to allow parents to attend their children’s wedding took a lot of effort.

“There are grandparents who raised their children to be Zionists, to love Israel, to move here and serve here as youth and now we are going to deprive them of the opportunity to be here for the birth of their grandson.” He noticed. “This is crazy.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Israel has struggled to prevent the infection from entering through Ben-Gurion Airport, causing many errors and confusion. During the first and second waves, precautions were not taken in time, resulting in tens of thousands of infections.

On the other hand, since January 2021, the airport was completely closed for a few weeks, preventing Israeli citizens from leaving and re-entering the country. Strict quarantine measures were imposed, often without compliance.

The plight of Israelis whose families abroad do not meet immunization criteria is not the only problem.

As of Sunday, hours before the new rules go into effect, the new entry statement that must be completed declaring vaccination / recovery status within 48 hours prior to the flight and submitted to the airline prior to boarding, not yet was online.

The rules themselves had not yet been published on the Ministry of Health’s English website. The airlines were not even notified and some people were denied boarding, Lipman said.

Furthermore, differences emerged between the plan announced by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on October 21 and the one published by the Health Ministry on Thursday.

According to Bennett’s statement, travelers would be allowed into the country one week after the second or third Pfizer vaccination. In the new plan, it is 14 clear days after the injection.

Also, to prove recovery from COVID, a digital certificate is required, provided only by certain countries and not, for example, by the US.

Again, while these changes might not stop someone who is only interested in entering Israel for tourism, who may postpone the trip or choose another destination, for those who bought tickets exactly one week after their reinforcement to be in a family event, they make a big difference.

“I think decision makers are completely unrelated to this,” Lipman said. “They are sitting in some office, making last minute decisions and literally hurting people in the process and they have no idea.

“People express a lot of pain, anxiety and stress. Many have been telling me that if they knew that their parents could not be at the birth of their child, or their brother at their wedding, they would never have made aliyah, “he added.

Yad L’Olim, he promised, will continue to fight for better policies.

“If necessary, we will take to the streets and demonstrate because this situation is not acceptable,” Lipman said.


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