Over 700 Brazilians repatriated from Israel thus far

The fourth Air Force flight landed in Rio on Sat. morning

Published on 14/10/2023 - 18:38 By Bruno de Freitas Moura - Rio de Janeiro

Apprehension, expectation, hugs, and tears of relief—such are the words to describe the early hours of Saturday morning (Oct. 14) in the arrivals hall at Rio de Janeiro’s Tom Jobim International Airport. Relatives were waiting for another flight of Brazil’s Air Force with Brazilian nationals repatriated from Israel.

Researcher Priscila Grimberg went to welcome her 15-year-old daughter Maia, who had spent two months in Tel Aviv studying. She said she knew that Israel has a history of being attacked by rockets launched from neighboring countries, but now the situation was different. “The greatest agony is when you start to see things that are unusual—not the bombings, but the invasions, kidnappings, and murders.”

The Air Force KC-30 plane touched down on Brazilian soil at 2:44 am, with 207 Brazilians who had asked the Brazilian government to help them repatriate after Israel was attacked by Palestinian extremist group Hamas last Saturday (7). Airbus A330 200 also carried two dogs and two pet cats. Grimberg’s daughter was the first to arrive at the terminal. As soon as she saw her mother, she ran to hug her and could not hold back her tears.

“It’s very bad to be there and hear things, the bombs, but being here on Mom’s lap is really good,” she said with relief. As for what the last few days have been like in the country that declared war on Hamas, the answer is straightforward: “distressing,” she said, her voice breaking.

The mother’s sense of relief blends with solidarity shared among the people involved in the conflict. “I’m asking for a lot of light, not only for the Jewish people and Israel, but also for the Palestinian people, who are suffering from this.”

Frightening sound

Thiago Giraldi, 15, arrived with his father. They were traveling as tourists when the clash broke out. The two were in the north of Israel, the furthest region from the sites attacked by Hamas, which ended up becoming a point of tension because of its proximity to Lebanon, the base country of the Hezbollah group, also an enemy of Israel.

The return flight by a commercial airline was scheduled for Sunday (15), but they thought it would be more prudent to go to Tel Aviv and advance the repatriation on the Air Force aircraft. They both live in Guarapari, Espírito Santo state.

“I felt unsafe there. It’s frightening when the siren goes off. It’s a feeling I don’t want anyone to go through,” he told Agência Brasil after being welcomed by his grandfather.

Since arriving at the airport, Thiago’s grandfather had been waiting to give his grandson a hug. “I was terrified. Now I hope other grandparents can do what I’m doing, give him that hug, that kiss, get out of here and sleep in peace,” said engineer José Lúcio Geraldi.

The Hamas attack and Israeli retaliation, which left thousands dead, also impacted the vacation of system administrator Rafael Borsani. He had arrived in a town just north of Tel Aviv when the first attacks took place two days later.

His return to Brazil was scheduled for October 21, but it had to be brought forward by a week. “It’s tense. You’re apprehensive, wondering if it’s going to escalate, if it’s going to resolve. It was a bad experience,” he said. “But everything worked out,” he added.

Repatriation efforts

The plane that landed in Rio de Janeiro at the early hours of the morning was the fourth in the government’s Voltando em Paz (“Returning in Peace”) operation. So far, 701 Brazilians have been repatriated on Air Force flights since Wednesday (11), when the first 211 rescued arrived. The following day, a further 214 landed. On Friday, 69 passengers arrived in Brazilian territory. Flights from Israel to Brazil last around 14 hours.

This Saturday, another Air Force KC-30 flight is scheduled to take off from Tel Aviv bound for Brazil. It should arrive at around 2:30 am on Sunday (15). Possible new repatriation flights from Israel are being considered, the Foreign Ministry stated.

According to the ministry, 14 thousand Brazilians were living in Israel at the end of last year. Those interested in repatriation are being accommodated according to priority criteria. The Brazilian government advises nationals who have airline tickets—or are able to purchase them—to board commercial flights from Ben Gurion airport.

Rescue in Gaza

Palestine is home to 6 thousand Brazilians, as per official figures. The logistics of bringing back Brazilians who are in Gaza is all the more complicated as the region is being targeted by Israeli attacks and because it involves Egypt, which has recently admitted the Brazilians on the move.

The Brazilian government hired buses to transport its citizens to the Egyptian border on Saturday and was awaiting clearance for the crossing through Rafah into the African country.

The escape route for the Brazilians confined in the region is through Rafah, on the border between the southern part of Gaza and Egypt. The Brazilian government hired buses for transportation to the border with Egypt and contacted the Israeli government to ensure the safety of the Brazilians.

The Air Force VC-2 (Embraer 190) aircraft, used by the president’s office and assigned to the operation, landed in Rome on Friday (13), awaiting authorization to go to Egypt.

Brazilians killed

There is confirmation of three Brazilians killed by Hamas attacks in Israel. Karla Stelzer Mendes, 42; Bruna Valeanu, 24; and Ranani Nidejelski Glazer, 24.

The Brazilian government reiterates its total rejection of all acts of violence against civilians.

The Foreign Ministry has disclosed the contact information of the embassy in Tel Aviv, +972 (54) 8035858, and its representative office in Ramallah, in the West Bank, +972 (59) 2055510, for Brazilians in emergency situations. The on-call team in Brasília can be reached on +55 (61) 982600610.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Juliana Cézar Nunes

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