Image from this morning's happy arrival of over 160 people airlifted out of Israel
Image from this morning's happy arrival of over 160 people airlifted out of Israel

Safe at last: over 160 people touch down on Portuguese soil from Israel 

Portuguese, Luso-Israeli, Bulgarian, Irish, Lithuanian and Spanish

The long-awaited repatriation flight for Portuguese citizens desperate to get out of Israel has finally arrived on national soil.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, João Gomes Cravinho was at Figo Maduro airport this morning to welcome the 160-plus arrivals – 152 Portuguese and Portuguese-Israelis, along with 14 other nationalities (Spanish, Irish, Bulgarians and Lithuanians among others, writes Lusa). 

The minister told reporters that a C-130 Portuguese Air Force plane is due to arrive tomorrow with another four people, which should complete the number of Portuguese citizens who have expressed their desires to return to Portugal.

Among those arriving, Lusa heard from Tamara da Silva, a dual Portuguese Israeli national, who could not praise Portugal’s help enough.

“What Portugal did was amazing”, she said. Tamara was accompanied by her Portuguese husband and three children, aged 7, 5 and 18 months.

“We couldn’t have hoped for better, we were picked up at the airport (in Tel Aviv), everything was very well organised, we didn’t have to wait long, we boarded the military plane (C-130 of the Portuguese Air Force), it was an hour’s flight to Cyprus, there we were received by the civil protection services, we spent the night, and we really felt safe (…) This morning we left Larnaca (on the south-east coast of the island of Cyprus) on a large plane (TAP, chartered by the government) and everything was very well organised (…) “thank you, Portugal!.

“We couldn’t imagine having to stay there for another day,” she added.

Micael Silva and Ana Rita Cavaco, both Portuguese researchers just a few days away from becoming parents, had been working at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, about 30 kilometres south of Tel Aviv for over a year, and had also been in constant contact with the consular emergency office in the Israeli capital.

“We knew that this repatriation mission was happening, we were always in contact with the consular emergency office, and the fact that we were very close to the end of the pregnancy accelerated our decision to come,” said Ana Rita.

 “Things could escalate and then it would be very difficult to come,” they said.

Jonathan Ianai, also married to a Portuguese-Israeli woman, arrived with his wife and three children, but “didn’t know yet” where he would be staying.

“I don’t know what to expect, we tried to tell the children that this was some kind of adventure, otherwise it could cause them mental distress,” he told Lusa.

Asked if his family had received any indication from Portuguese authorities about how they would be accommodated, he confessed “not yet”, trusting that they will “find a place to stay”.

Ianai also didn’t clarify whether the family “has the conditions to stay for a long time” in the situation in which they are arriving in Portugal, but made a point of emphasising that they “hope this (the war) will end soon”.

“The Israeli defence forces (IDF) are working hard to find all those responsible for what happened, but it’s a difficult task, because thousands of people, thousands of terrorists, entered Israel and no one expected it,” he said.

“We saw how much the Americans invested in catching Bin Laden, I think the same thing will happen: Israel will not stop until it finds all the men responsible for these actions and brings them to justice.”

Minister Gomes Cravinho said his government was “pleased that it was possible to carry out this operation under very difficult circumstances.”

He regretted the death of Portuguese-Israeli student Rotem Neumann, expressing his “deep condolences” to her family, and revealing that there are “four more (Portuguese citizens) missing”.

Gomes Cravinho also admitted there are “around 2,000 more Portuguese” who are on consular lists in Israel, “but who, for the time being, have not expressed a desire to return to Portugal”.

In the meantime, SIC Notícias reports that Porto’s Kadoorie synagogue has suffered vandalism, with slogans saying “Free Palestine” and “End Israel Apartheid” being daubed over its gates.

Porto’s Kadoorie synagogue is the largest in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the largest in Europe. It dates back to the 1930s, being officially inaugurated in 1937.

Police have been called to the scene as this developing conflict is raising tensions on a global scale. ND