An American tourist who arrived with his tour group at the airport only to find an empty hall, thinks that things could have been done differently.
"Everything here is ridiculous. It's all too governmental. If the things would have been thought through, this strike would not have been happening. These things are typical to Israel and this is the reason it looks the way it is," he said.
The group arrived at the airport after the last update they received about the strike was that the sides were still in negotiations.
As of 6 a.m. Wednesday, the Histadrut labor federation launched a general strike in the public sector in protest of the ongoing failure to pay local authority workers' wages.
A last-minute attempt to prevent the strike failed, after the finance and interior ministers failed to convince the Histadrut chairman to give the government a few more days to solve the problem of holding back wages.
Stranded passengers (Photo: Niv Calderon)
Histdrut Chairman Ofer Eini said Wednesday morning that the strike will end only when a solution is found for the problem of wages which have not been paid to the employees. He said that the Histadrut decided on a full general strike and not a partial one so it could be short, and emphasized that they are trying to prevent the public from suffering.
Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson called on the Histadrut on Wednesday morning to end the strike and continue the negotiations. According to the minister, most local authority workers could be paid within days.
Ben Gurion Airport was abandoned. Most of the airlines managed overnight to get their flights out before the strike deadline.
El-Al Israel Airlines decided that 13 flights which were scheduled to depart Wednesday will take off earlier, and the flights took off before 6 a.m. During the morning hours a transatlantic flight is received special permission to land, but its luggage will not be offloaded.
'There might be a good reason for strike'
During the early morning hours, some passengers who were supposed to leave to different destinations around the world arrived at the airport, but they were forced to go back home and wait for the flights to renew.
"I am very disappointed and I don't understand the reasons and the purpose of why we are suffering," said Ilana Case from Ariel. "I paid a lot of money for a taxi to get here. Who will pay for my way back? A strike is not the way to protest. This way everybody gets hurt."
Empty counters (Photo: Niv Kalderon)
Christian, a tourist from Denmark, arrived at the airport and did not even know there was a strike. He said he did not know what to do. "I am a sick man and I need to get back home and now I will have to wait here until things work out," he said.
The arrivals hall began to fill with passengers who arrived during the early morning hours, but could not claim their luggage. Ortal from Be'er Sheva, who came back from three months in Thailand and China who is probably still in the Far Eastern mood, said that "it sucks to get back to Israel after a long time and to receive this kind of welcome. However, I am not angry. I have no idea what is happening, and there might be a good reason for the strike."
Pinhas Ida, chairman of the airport workers union, said that until the problem of the municipality workers is solved, the strike will go on.
"My heart is with the passengers, but the ones who have to give the answers are the Finance Ministry and the Interior Ministry. It is much worse that a worker cannot bring a salary home at the end of the month."
Despite the strike, the Histadrut has announced it is operating a special committee which will give exemptions from the strike due to special humanitarian circumstances.