Aliyah to Israel Still Possible – but Only After Two Weeks in ‘Coronavirus Hotels’

Jewish Agency says new olim will have to go to either absorption centers or special quarantine hotels; group of 22 Americans still on scheduled to make aliyah this May

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A new immigrant arrives in Ben Gurion airport.
A new immigrant arrives in Ben Gurion airport.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Immigrants arriving in Israel should from now on expect to spend their first 14 days in the country in special hotels designated for coronavirus quarantine.

On Sunday, the Israeli government ruled that all Israeli citizens returning from overseas would immediately be taken to such hotels, unless they receive special approval to be quarantined elsewhere. The new regulation is currently in force until April 22, but may be extended.

In response to a query from Haaretz, the Jewish Agency, which oversees immigration, said the new rule would likely also apply to immigrants who had already arranged housing for themselves in Israel – in other words, those who had purchased or rented a residence in advance.

However, immigrants who planned to head straight to specially designated “absorption centers” would not be taken to these hotels. Instead, they would go as planned to the Agency-operated centers, which typically serve organized groups of immigrants, where they would be required to spend the 14-day isolation period.

Agency spokeswoman Hagit Halali said the matter would be finalized in the coming days. She added that no immigrants are expected to arrive in the country until after the end of the Passover holiday on Wednesday.

A "quarantine hotel" in Jerusalem, March 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

“Given the situation with airlines around the world, there is a significant drop in the number of arrivals in recent weeks. But aliyah to Israel never stopped, and will never stop,” she said.

Under new coronavirus-related government orders, only Israeli citizens and individuals who have been approved in advance as eligible for immigration are allowed into the country.

Any individual eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return obtains citizenship immediately. The Law of Return applies to any person who has at least one Jewish grandparent, a Jewish spouse or who has converted in an established Jewish community.

Since the coronavirus outbreak in Israel last month, immigration has slowed to a trickle. However, Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization responsible for aliyah from North America, said it still plans to fly in 22 immigrants from the United States next month.

Most of them have tickets for an El Al flight scheduled to arrive in Israel on May 12. Since the Israeli national airline is no longer operating regular commercial flights from the United States, Nefesh B’Nefesh spokeswoman Yael Katsman said the passengers would likely be transferred to United Airlines, which is still flying direct to Israel from Newark.

“We will wait until after Passover to see what is planned for El Al,” Katsman said.

She said an immigrant from the United Stated had arrived on her own in Israel a day before the Passover holiday, on a United Airlines flight. Since Israel began imposing coronavirus-related restrictions on overseas flights, she added, about 60 immigrants had arrived from the United States – including about two dozen on an organized flight a few weeks ago.

In recent years, Russia and Ukraine have been the main sources of aliyah to Israel. But since they both sealed their borders in recent weeks, immigration from these two countries has come to a complete halt. Immigration from France – another key source of aliyah in recent years – continues, but only in tiny numbers.

Because of a coronavirus-related lockdown in Ethiopia, the planned arrival in Israel of 150 members of the Falshmura community – descendants of Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity more than a century ago – has been delayed indefinitely. The group had been scheduled to land immediately after the Passover holiday.

A group of Falashmura immigrants at Ben Gurion Airport after arriving from Ethiopia, February 25, 2020. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an organization active in facilitating immigration in recent years, has meanwhile suspended all its aliyah activities. About 30 immigrants from Brazil, who arrived in Israel a few weeks ago, was the last group it brought over.

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