Jews Caught in Crossfire in Georgia-Russia War

War in Georgia: Some 40 Israeli teachers are stuck there, and another 50 Jews want to make Aliyah.

Hillel Fendel ,

Georgia and environs
Georgia and environs
Israel News Photo: (file)

As the Russian offensive against Georgia rages on, 40 Israeli teachers are trying to make their way out of Georgia, via Turkey or Armenia, and some 50 Jews have requested to make Aliyah (immigration to Israel).

The 40 teachers arrived in Georgia's capital city of Tbilisi on Friday in the framework of a vacation trip organized by the Histadrut Teachers Union.  Upon landing, however, they abruptly found themselves in the middle of a war zone, with no way to leave.  Arkia, the Israeli airline that flew them in, has already announced the cancellation of its next flight from Tbilisi to Israel, this coming Friday, because of the war situation.

"The airport in Tbilisi has been bombed and radar is not working," Arkia's press agency said in a statement, "and we are working on creative solutions to help extricate the Israelis who are stuck there."  The most likely of these solutions is driving them via land-routes to a nearby country - most likely Armenia, but possibly Turkey - and flying them home from there.  The Israelis have not yet agreed to avail themselves of this solution, however, nor has Arkia yet been granted Foreign Ministry permission to fly from Armenia.

Jews in Tbilisi and Gori
On another front, over 50 Jews from Georgia - mostly from the cities of Gori and Tbilisi - have filed requests with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) to immigrate to Israel.  The Jewish Agency has opened a situation room in Georgia to help the local Jews.  The Foreign Ministry and Jewish Agency have opened a corresponding room in Israel to deal with the many queries by Israelis who are concerned for their relatives in Georgia.

Some 12,000 Jews currently live in Georgia, most of them in Tbilisi and nearby areas in central Georgia.  Over the past nearly 20 years, over 23,000 people have immigrated to Israel from Georgia under the auspices of the Jewish Agency.

MK Litinsky and JAFI Official Arrive to Help
Over the past day, Jewish Agency official Alex Katz and Labor MK Leon Litinsky have arrived in Tbilisi to help the Jews in the beleaguered country. The immediate goal is to continue to help Jews to come to Tbilisi, and then to aid those who wish to make Aliyah.

Some Jewish refugee families are living with Jewish families in Tbilisi, including two families living in the home of the city's Chief Rabbi.

Chabad Efforts
Rabbi Meir Kozolovsky of the local Chabad chapter in the capital has turned to Georgia's Defense Ministry on behalf of Jewish families vacationing near the Black Sea.  He has asked for a special permit to allow the 50 families to return to Tibilis, despite the wartime conditions.  The children of the families study in the Ohr Avner network of Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union, founded by the President of the Union of Jewish Communities in Russia and the Commonwealth of Nations, Lev Levayev.

Some of the families, unable to wait for the help, have already escaped to the city of Rostov in Russia. 

Minister Yishai of Shas
Eli Yishai, the Minister of Industry and Trade, called upon Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Sha'ul Mofaz - who are running against each other for leadership of the Kadima Party - to "work together for the good of the Jews and Israelis currently in Georgia. In the name of Jewish compasion, Israel must send humanitarian aid to the region, following international coordination."

"At the same time," the Shas Party leader said, "the airlines and the air traffic authorities must do everything they can to rescue those who wish to leave as soon as possible.  This is a question of life and death, and every delay can cost lives."