Igor Rubin from Haifa has a six-year-old son named Daniel who lives in Belarus with his mother and visits his father in Israel every few weeks. The child has been flying like this since he was five, with an escort who puts him on the plane.
“The coronavirus changed everybody’s plans, and my son, Danny, remained in Belarus,” Rubin told the local newspaper Haifa and the Krayot.
Belarus happens to be one of those few countries that’s doing nothing to combat the pandemic, life there continues as usual, soccer and hockey games are conducted before packed stadiums (and are fed to sports starved fans all over the world). “It’s not a safe place, certainly not for a child,” Rubin said.
“Last Friday, I noticed there was going to be a direct flight from Minsk to Ben Gurion International on Sunday, I bought a ticket for my boy and started fixing the mess in my house,” Rubin continued, noting, “As you may know, on the Saturday before, a flight from New York landed at Ben Gurion and all the passengers were allowed to disperse without any Health Ministry supervision. Which is why now every returning resident must enter isolation in a quarantine hotel.”
“I was going to find out how a six-year-old boy enters a quarantine hotel by himself, but my brother-in-law called me up Saturday night to tell me, ‘I saw in some of the talkbacks to a post on Facebook the phone number of Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Maybe call him up and ask what to do with your boy?’ I replied cynically: ‘You should have better gotten me Bibi’s phone number.'”
Nevertheless, Rubin messaged Bezalel Smotrich and minutes later received a response saying the minister understood his situation and would let the defense minister know about it. The next day, Smotrich instructed the worried father to contact DM Naftali Bennett’s chief of staff, Itay Hershkowitz, and he promised to take care of the problem – which to Rubin seemed an astonishing level of care and availability on the part of these very busy Israeli government high officials.
But then the other shoe fell.
“The flight to Israel was scheduled to take off on Sunday at 7:10 PM,” Rubin reported. But about half an hour prior to takeoff, the child’s mother was told by the Belavia Belarusian Airlines officials that the boy would not be allowed to board, because regulations had changed regarding directing landing passengers to quarantine hotels and the airline refuses to accept responsibility for the child.
Daniel’s mother explained that the issue had been taken care of on the Israeli side at the highest possible level, but they refused her and won’t listen to her arguments and pleas. She then rushed over to the airport CEO, only to receive the exact same response from him.
“At 6:45 PM, all passengers are on the plane, waiting to take off, she calls me and says there is nothing to do, the child is not flying,” Rubin continued.
“Many times in life we encounter situations of injustice, often we give up because there is no choice, we often hear it’s ‘better to be smart than right,” and often we raise our hands in surrender,” he said. “I felt this was a complete injustice and that I was abandoning my son in a country that did not know the meaning of rate of death per capita. My hands were shaking, but I picked up the phone and called Hershkowitz again.
“It was 6:46 PM and I explain to him that my child is not being allowed to fly. He tells me, ‘But we got him all the permits upon his arrival,’ and I reply, ‘The Belarusians won’t let him get on the flight. If you could call Israel’s ambassador to Minsk now, and the ambassador would call Belavia’s CEO, maybe Belavia’s CEO would call the checkout counter, maybe this would give my child the chance to get on the flight.’
“I Don’t know where I found the courage or the nerve to ask for such a thing, but the more amazing thing was, I heard him at the other end saying, ‘I’ll handle it.’ And again, I realized internally that I had just asked for something really unreasonable, and like any parent who worries about his child’s health, I understood that the situation was not good and I had no ability to influence things.
“Daniel’s mother is crying to me on the phone, she tells me Daniel doesn’t understand what’s going on. At 6:53 PM, I get a call back from Itay: ‘I spoke to the ambassador now. The ambassador spoke to the Belavia CEO. The CEO called the counter at the checkout gate in the airport. Your child is on this flight.’
“I responded in shock: ‘But at 6:55, in another 15 minutes, the flight takes off.’ I got a clipped and sharp response from him: ‘This plane will not take off without your son.’
“At that moment, half the airport in Minsk came to my son Daniel’s aid, they delayed the flight for him and sat him down in business. When the boy landed in Israel and I asked him how the flight was, he replied: ‘As usual, only today they changed the menu on the plane.’ Turns out they fed him right in business class…
“I got my son who is healthy and whole in the airport, and an hour later I received a call from Itay, asking if everything was okay…
“Needless to say, we went straight to my car, drove home and of course Daniel and I are now spending two weeks in solitary confinement in my house,” Rubin concluded.
DM Bennett, who shared Rubin’s story on his Facebook page, said he was extremely proud both of his own chief of staff and of his party member Bezalel Smotrich.
We are, too.