Israeli airline pilots refuse to fly deported asylum seekers: ‘I will not fly refugees to their deaths’

In a series of recent Facebook posts, a group of pilots for the Israeli airline El Al declared that they will not fly African asylum seekers back to Rwanda if they are being forcibly deported by Israel.

“I’ve joined many of my colleagues in declaring that I will not fly refugees to their deaths,” pilot Iddo Elad wrote according to Haaretz. “I will not be a partner to such barbarism.”

“There is no way that I, as part of a flight crew, would participate in taking refugees/asylum seekers to a destination where their chances of surviving (in a ‘third country’) are minuscule,” a second pilot named Shaul Betzer wrote.

A third pilot, Yoel Piterbarg, wrote, “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 – places like South Sudan and other African countries. 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,” adding that he “will not fly refugees being deported against their will, even if only for the legal reason (there is no other) that they might endanger flight safety.”

From Haaretz:

Rwanda and Uganda are both reportedly ‘third countries’ to which the Israeli government plans to deport some 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who have entered Israel illegally since the 2000s.

The pilots’ statements will not effect Israel’s planned deportations since El Al doesn’t offer any flights to Rwanda. As Haaretz points out, Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have been flown to Rwanda on foreign airlines through Jordan, Turkey and Ethiopia.

Nevertheless, the pilots are responding to an outcry from some 7,500 Israeli citizens who have written personal letters to the Israel Aviation Association, the Israel Pilots Association, and other companies that provide ground services at Ben-Gurion Airport.

In response to its pilots’ protest, El Al said in a statement that it is “not required by the state to fly refugees.”

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