Defense Ministry to Take Over at Ben Gurion Airport

Arrivals at Ben Gurion International Airport earlier this month. (Flash90)

The Defense Ministry will now handle incoming flights to Ben Gurion Airport after numerous reports that passengers on the few flights still entering the country were being released of their own volition, without being quarantined. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Motzoei Shabbos suspended all incoming flights to Israel after media footage showed passengers exiting the airport and getting into cars driven by friends or relatives, or into taxis if no one else was there to pick them up. Responsibility for processing passengers will now be transferred from the Transportation to Defense Ministries, which intends to significantly toughen policies regarding those entering the country.

Most of the passengers entering Israel in recent days are Israelis who are returning home. Currently United Airlines is the only carrier ferrying passengers into Israel, from New York, which has been hard hit by coronavirus. Passengers are instructed on the flights that they are supposed to self-quarantine after they arrive in Israel, but there is no guarantee that they are doing so. Seven such flights arrived from New York last week, and the only passengers who were quarantined in a government-sponsored motel or hotel were the ones who said they had no place to self-quarantine.

Kan News quoted government sources that the fault lie with State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit, who ruled that Israelis returning home could not be forcibly quarantined if they agreed to self-quarantine. Mandelblit denied this, saying that it was up to the government to set policy in a national emergency.

Netanyahu discussed the matter with top officials Saturday night, and it was decided that the Defense Ministry would now handle all incoming passengers. The Ministry has not yet released official details on what the new procedure for processing passengers would be, but the reports quoted officials as saying that all returning passengers would be quarantined in a hotel, regardless of whether or not they had a place to self-quarantine.

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