An emotional reunion took place on Thursday as an Israeli couple returned to Israel from a Turkish prison after being accused of espionage.
The couple, Natalie and Mordy Oknin, flew back to the Holy Land on a private jet dispatched by the Israeli government. Upon their return, their family gathered to repeat Psalm 118 in unison:
Hashem, deliver us! Hashem, let us prosper! (Psalms 118:25)
MK Betzalel Smotrich (National Union) hailed the family’s faith saying: “The Oknin family teaches us what faith in God is. The beautiful Israeli, the faithful Israeli, it’s so good that you came home. You continue to move us.”
The two were initially arrested in Istanbul after snapping a photo of the presidential palace.
Ms. Oknin made a statement to the media from the porch of the couple’s Modi’in apartment, expressing gratitude for the efforts in securing her and her husband’s release.
“Thank you, prime minister and foreign minister. Thank you, president. Thank you people of Israel. Thanks to all who assisted and supported [us],” she proclaimed.
Shiraz Oknin, the couple’s daughter said, “My parents are back, and there’s nothing better.”
When the couple was initially arrested, the Turkish police initially recommended deporting them back to Israel and even notifying Jerusalem of its plans. But the prosecution had other ideas in mind and requested that the two, along with a Turkish citizen who was together with them, be charged with “political or military espionage,” reports Turkish media.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has gotten personally involved in the affair. However he is also trying to maintain a low profile to avoid turning it into a major international crisis, a senior diplomatic source said on Saturday.
Erdogan appears to be using Oaknin’s charges for political reasons, and will likely worsen the already poor state of diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey.
Israel’s embassy in Ankara has asked the Turkish government to allow an urgent visit in an effort to secure their release.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid contacted the Oaknin family in Israel to reassure them.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke with the family, at their request, his spokesperson said. He told them that he will do all he can to help bring the couple home, in full coordination with the government.
The Oaknins photographed Erdogan’s palace during their visit to the Camilca Tower, a TV tower that recently opened and is the tallest in Europe. A waitress overheard them talking about it and called the police on them.
The two are residents of the central city of Modi’in and work as bus drivers. The court ruled that the two will remain in police custody until their trial, which won’t be for at least 20.
The Oaknins arrest comes roughly one month after Turkey arrested 15 alleged Mossad spies, whose photos Turkish media publicized.