A group of El Al pilots took to Facebook in recent days to declare their refusal to deport African asylum seekers by plane. Following their posts, over 130 airline crew members took an ad out in Haaretz with a similar message.
These actions are a response to a new procedure, revealed earlier this month by the Ministry of Interior, which now requires asylum seekers to leave Israel or go to prison.
“Refugees who are already living among us cannot be thrown away like stray dogs back to their countries, where suffering, rape of women and girls, and agonizing death awaits them…” wrote Yoel Piterbarg, one of the El Al pilots, “Let the refugees remain here and be taken care of immediately, as human beings. Just like the Jews were refugees once, wanting to be cared for and not thrown out.”
These statements were inspired by a robust campaign by Zazim – Community Action who gathered 10,000 signatures (and counting) petitioning Israeli pilots. The campaign ran at first in Hebrew and Arabic, it is now open to English speakers as well.
They targeted the Israeli Pilots Union and then expanded the call to include ground crew operators at Ben Gurion Airport, in the hopes of directly reaching the people that would be called to carry out the deportation of the asylum seekers. They were inspired by Lufthansa and other German pilots who refused to fly 222 asylum seekers from Germany to Afghanistan in December.
“The situation around the mass deportation is very black and white. It’s very clear what the moral call here is, and I think that resonated with people,” said Eli Philip, a campaigner for Zazim. “We have a moral responsibility to prevent the deportations. Many people wrote [letters as part of the campaign] about their personal history with the Holocaust, and the imperative to protect and provide a refuge for asylum seekers.”