Israeli officials turned away religiously observant mourners from South Africa, forcing them onto return flights despite their pleas that they could not violate the sabbath, according to report.
By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News
Relatives of Eli Kay, the South African immigrant who was murdered in a terror attack last week in the Old City, were turned away by Israeli immigration authorities at Ben-Gurion Airport over fears of the new Omicron coronavirus variant.
Five South African tourists, who according to a Maariv report were relatives and family friends of the Kays, had traveled to the Jewish State in order to comfort the grieving family.
But after landing in Israel, they were informed that new coronavirus restrictions banning travelers from all of Africa, save for Morocco, meant they couldn’t enter the country.
The travelers, religiously observant Jews, explained to the Israeli authorities that there was not enough time for them to fly back to South Africa before the beginning of the sabbath.
However, their concerns fell on deaf ears. Ilana Smith, a friend of Eli Kay’s mother, told Maariv that the Israeli authorities “treated us like criminals…shouted at us to keep quiet and not ask questions.”
Smith said she told them that she could not violate the Sabbath, and in response immigration officials “told me they would arrest me if I did not get on the plane. I had not eaten for more than 24 hours and for the first time in my life I desecrated Shabbat.”
The travelers were sent to Dubai, where they asked to spend the sabbath. Their request was denied, and they were placed on a return flight to South Africa immediately.
“In Dubai they were nicer and at least explained to us what was happening and why it was happening,” Smith added.
Brian Blumenau, a friend of Kay’s brother, said he was shocked by the treatment they received and the lack of accommodation for sabbath keepers.
“We flew before the Prime Minister’s decision,” he said, explaining that the travelers had left South Africa on Thursday, while the ban was announced on Friday afternoon.
On being forced to break the sabbath, Blumenau said, “the Jewish State should not do such a thing.”
A family friend told Maariv that Kay’s family was surprised that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had not stopped by to pay condolences over their son’s death.
The friend said the Kays were “very hurt” by Bennett’s absence. “They asked again and again – how could it be? They said that in South Africa the president would come to such an event.”
The friend added that Bennett “had enough time to get his child vaccinated but on the way from Jerusalem to Ra’anana but he did not have time to [stop by] for a few minutes.
“I do not know his schedule, but it’s really weird and unusual.”
On Saturday night, Israel officially banned all foreigners from flying into the country.