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Dying, fighting, fleeing: Australians in Israel and Israelis in Australia

Limor Fayena
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Dying, fighting, fleeing: Australians in Israel, Israelis in Australia

Published: 13 October 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Australian are scrambling to leave Israel on repatriation flights. Yaniv Kahana has swapped his surfboard for a gun to travel in the opposite direction. 

There are about 10,000 Australians living in Israel and a similar number of Israelis living in Australia – plus an unknown number of Australians temporarily in Israel, many of them students.  For all of them, the war has created a life-changing crisis.

Australian-Israeli Galit Carbone, 66, became the first known Australian victim of the war in Israel when she was found murdered by terrorists outside her home on Kibbutz Be’eri. The Sydney-born grandmother moved to Israel in her twenties and built her life there.

Hundreds of Australian Jewish students are in Israel on gap year programs and many are trying to leave but many commercial airlines have cancelled flights. The Australian Government is providing two government-assisted flights, with further flights to be considered. Contact +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas or 1300 555 135 within Australia to access these flights.

All students are accounted for. Some have been moved to safer locations at Kiryat Moriah in Jerusalem, some have already left the country and some have completed programs but remain in Israel.

Israelis in Australia spent the week tracing family and friends and, for some, deciding whether they could remain on the other side of the world while their country is at war.

Yaniv Kahana moved to Australia eight years ago and works as a consultant for an IT company where he enjoys a safe life and watersports for leisure. But next weekend, Kahana will not be surfing at Manly or foiling on Narrabeen lake.

This week he took a flight to Israel to serve as a captain in the infantry. He felt he had no choice but to join his comrades on the battlefield.

“I couldn’t sleep. Everyone has been called up. I was filled with guilt feelings. I was afraid that if I didn't fly and just watched what happened from the sidelines, it would be very, very hard for me. [Returning to serve] is a way to give to the community but it also comes from an internal place. I felt that I had to go.”

His family in Israel would have preferred he remained in the safety of Australia. ”My parents are extremely worried and asked me not to come but I explained to them that I don’t have a choice,” he said.

"Even if we live overseas for many years, we still feel a strong connection to Israel.”

Udi Tamir

All Israelis in Australia have friends and family affected. “We are five days into the war and nobody knows what happened to a member of my family. We believe he was kidnapped but nobody knows. We are all like zombies this week, no sleep at all,” one Israeli-Australian told The Jewish Independent.

Many reported receiving sympathetic responses from Australian friends and colleagues but they have also been hurt by the callous behaviour of pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Udi Tamir said he did not understand how his MP Jenny Leong could attend the rally two days after the slaughter of so many Israelis and wrote to her in protest.  

Tamir is active in the pro-democracy movement but says any internal division in the Israeli community has been put on hold. “All of this will happen at a later stage. At the moment we are all united in our pain and in our wish to help. Even if we live overseas for many years, we still feel a strong connection to Israel.”

Many student trips to Israel are scheduled to travel from Australia in November or December. Jewish secondary schools typically offer trips for Year 10 cohorts, Jewish education providers BJE and UJEB send groups over the summer period and several programs are scheduled for university students.

Bialik College has informed parents that it has cancelled its Chaviyah program and other cancellations are expected.

Image: Yaniv Kahana has swapped his surfboard for his gun as he returns to Israel to join the war against Hamas (supplied)

About the author

Limor Fayena

Limor Fayena is a software engineer and a film lecturer. Limor holds a BFA in Film and Television. She lectures and writes about cinema and its cultural and political aspects.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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