Operation Solomon: Thirty years because the rescue of the Jews of Ethiopia

2021-05-20 21:44:50

“Operation Solomon was a rescue aliyah operation. It was a historic chapter that attests to the power and need of the individuals of Israel to rescue Jews wherever on the earth,” says former shaliach (emissary) Avi Mizrahi, who on the time of Operation Solomon was accountable for Ethiopian airport operations for The Jewish Company, together with then-IDF deputy chief of workers Amnon Lipkin-Shahak.

“1000’s of individuals participated, together with Jewish Company workers in Ethiopia and Israel, in cooperation with the entire events concerned – the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Ministry of Overseas Affairs, the Mossad, the IDF and particularly the air drive, American Jewry and the Jewish Federations of North America JFNA [then UJA], in addition to the American Affiliation for Ethiopian Jews. Greater than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews had been spared from a long time of ready, arriving in Israel through air shuttles inside 24 hours.” In his first interview on the thirtieth anniversary of the operation, he provides, “For me, this operation was the final word. What we had wished all through all our years of exercise, occurred. Thirty years have handed and I’m nonetheless enthusiastic about it as if it occurred yesterday.”

In 1989, after 16 years of separation, diplomatic ties between Israel and Ethiopia had been renewed and the Ethiopian authorities, led by dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, allowed a number of hundred Jews to immigrate to Israel every month as a part of a household reunification program. Initially of 1991, the safety scenario in Ethiopia was shaky, as conflicts between the central authorities and Mengistu’s opponents intensified. With rising tensions within the nation, there was rising concern in regards to the destiny of the Ethiopian Jews, and it was determined to convey them to Israel in a rapid-response operation. Some $35 million was paid to the native authorities with the assistance of donations from American Jewry, in change for its consent to convey the Jews to Israel. The dramatic operation was named “Operation Solomon,” after King Solomon, who in response to the biblical narrative, met the Queen of Sheba.

In September 1990, 38-year-old Avi Mizrahi, collectively along with his spouse, Orna, and their 4 younger daughters – Kinneret, three; Reut, 5; Ma’ayan, 9; and Liron, 13 – traveled to Ethiopia because the shaliach of The Jewish Company. The Mizrahi household was the primary Israeli household despatched to Ethiopia, and was adopted by others, through the JDC. The 2 organizations collectively assisted the members of the group find employment, and offered a residing allowance, education and extra. The mission to convey the Jews of Ethiopia to Israel was entrusted to The Jewish Company’s emissaries. In December 1990, there was an tried revolution in Ethiopia. 

“There had been a number of makes an attempt previously, however this time we realized that the scenario was completely different,” says Mizrahi. “Due to the scenario, they started returning the households of the Israeli emissaries to Israel, together with my spouse and 4 daughters. On the identical time, the JDC, with the help of The Jewish Company, ready a communications community – a bunch of 120 activists from the group who would help in coping with the Jews of Ethiopia ought to the scenario worsen. 

“In 1991, we realized that the scenario was escalating. Two points involved us. One was the query of how the group would survive if the scenario deteriorated. The opposite was the opportunity of rescuing Ethiopian Jews earlier than the revolution. 

Micha Feldman was accountable for The Jewish Company delegation in Ethiopia, which consisted of a number of emissaries. Uri Lubrani was appointed by the Overseas Ministry to barter with the authorities to hold out the operation. Along with representatives of the Ministry of Overseas Affairs, the Mossad and the JDC and the IDF, we started to consider easy methods to get them out inside 48 hours,” remembers Mizrahi.

The rebels had already reached the outskirts of Addis Ababa.

“On the night of Thursday, Might 23, we acquired approval for the operation. We didn’t know easy methods to inform everybody. We gathered the group of activists and knowledgeable them that the aliyah operation would start the subsequent day. We had been involved that after the operation grew to become recognized that there can be many elements that will attempt to sabotage it. We determined to inform them the reality: ‘There’s a secret operation and everyone seems to be making aliyah.’ 

“WE TOLD THEM to convey everybody to the embassy the subsequent day, with out exception. We requested them to convey their households early within the morning after which convey the remainder of the group. We ready the large courtyard of the embassy as an exit station for the olim [immigrants], and the olim themselves ready the compound, not realizing that they had been making ready it for the upcoming operation.”

One of many challenges was to acquire a fleet of buses that will take the immigrants from the embassy compound to the planes with out arousing suspicion. A inventive resolution was discovered. 

“In an effort to put together with out making a gift of the existence of the operation, we organized a visit to the zoo for the scholars on Thursday, the day earlier than the operation started. This fashion we may order the buses and plan the transportation of olim from the embassy complicated.”

On Friday morning, members of the community started visiting the properties of members of the Jewish group to tell them that they had been about to make aliyah to Israel. 

“There was great pleasure. Many had been crying. It’s troublesome to explain it in phrases. Some households tried to promote their possessions earlier than leaving for the embassy compound. Some succeeded,” says Mizrahi. “We arrange organized stations within the Israeli Embassy complicated for the whole course of required earlier than aliyah. At one station, we checked the household ID that had been ready prematurely for every household in opposition to an image of the whole household. At one other station, numbers had been ready for all immigrants to determine them by organized teams to get to the buses and from there to the planes. The issue was that massive numbers of individuals got here to the Israeli Embassy – not simply Jews. We solely admitted these with the certificates. At the moment there was a nightly curfew in Ethiopia. Anybody strolling on the road was shot. Along with the authorities, we agreed that the curfew wouldn’t apply to our buses.”

All through these nerve-wracking hours, further issues arose that required improvisation and fast fixes: The Ethiopian authorities requested that an Ethiopian airline aircraft participate within the operation. 

“We arrived on the airport with 200 immigrants and the captain knowledgeable us that there have been solely 150 seats on the aircraft. I shortly recovered and knowledgeable the captain that fifty of the passengers had been infants sitting on their dad and mom’ knees.”

Greater than 100 round-trips of dozens of buses set off, from 6 a.m. Friday till 7 a.m. Saturday. 

“It has been mentioned that Operation Solomon lasted 36 hours,” says Mizrahi. “I declare that it was solely 24 hours – from the primary aircraft that left Ethiopia on Friday to the final aircraft that left Ethiopia on Saturday. After transferring everybody from the embassy compound to the runway, I drove to our condominium in Addis Ababa, took a suitcase and joined the final aircraft within the operation that took off for Israel. We landed in Israel on Saturday round three or 4 within the afternoon. There was a whole blackout in regards to the operation and nothing was revealed within the media. 

“I obtained off the aircraft on the civilian airport part and drove house to Jerusalem. The immigrants continued to the reception held of their honor on the airport. I turned on the TV and noticed the immigrants, who simply a short while earlier I had accompanied on the massive aliyah operation. I may lastly loosen up. The entire immigrants had been delivered to absorption facilities and resorts operated by Jewish Company personnel in coordination with authorities ministries.” 

What about households who didn’t arrive on time? Mizrahi joined The Jewish Company in 1978 as a social employee and started to work with Ethiopian immigrants in 1980, helping them of their aliyah and absorption in Israel. He led the absorption of immigrants in Operation Moses, and knew he would return to finish the mission. A number of months later, after the airport opened in Addis Ababa, he flew to Ethiopia and introduced the households who had remained behind.

RACHELI TADESA MALKAI, 38, founder and director of a company for the empowerment of Ethiopian girls, was eight years previous when she immigrated to Israel in Operation Solomon along with her dad and mom and three youthful brothers.

“A couple of 12 months earlier than our aliyah, a rumor unfold that we’d quickly have the ability to immigrate to Israel,” she says. In the course of the interview, we discovered that her father was a type of from the communications community. RACHELI TADESA MALKAI together with brothers Eli and Asher and their father after receiving documents. (Jewish Agency) RACHELI TADESA MALKAI along with brothers Eli and Asher and their father after receiving paperwork. (Jewish Company)

“Dad was very purposeful. I used to be very harassed. We left in a single day for a spot I didn’t know, fully completely different from what I had recognized. Had been we actually being taken to a protected place? We moved to Addis Ababa from a city close to Gondar, to be close to the embassy. At some point we had been instructed that the planes had been on their manner. All the pieces was finished in secret. We arrived on the embassy courtyard. There have been 1000’s of individuals with small suitcases and luggage of mementos. A quantity had been written on our foreheads so we may know to which group and aircraft we belonged. On the airport, planes waited for us with their engines working in order that they might depart shortly. The property and souvenirs that my dad and mom had introduced with them needed to be left behind. 

They had been instructed that the area on the aircraft was for individuals – not belongings.

“Once I obtained on the aircraft, I felt like I used to be moving into an enormous hen. A shiny black plastic sheet was unfold out on the ground. There have been no seats. That they had been taken out, in order that there can be as a lot room as attainable for individuals. After everybody obtained in, we had been instructed, ‘You’ll be able to sit down.’ At this time I do know that these had been IDF troopers in civilian garments. I sat near the window as a result of I needed to see what was taking place. I keep in mind the issues. I mentioned to my mom, ‘Are we actually going within the sky with this hen?’ I had by no means seen planes earlier than. 

“The flight took off, and in the midst of the flight there have been shouts of a lady kneeling to provide start. We had been instructed to make room for her in order that they might help her in giving start. There was little room, and I heard whispers. These had been very tense moments. One of many guys instructed a joke to alleviate the stress. I couldn’t imagine my eyes. It took a couple of seconds from the second the infant emerged till he cried. Everybody laughed and applauded. They took the girl apart, wrapped the infant in a blanket and we arrived in Israel. My dad and mom mentioned, ‘One thing new has been born. We’re on our approach to the Holy Land.’

“When the aircraft landed, nobody believed it was actual. We had all dreamed from the day we had been born of a land flowing with milk and honey. That is what we had heard in regards to the Holy Land. I used to be curious; is the water that’s flowing actually milk, and is everybody licking honey? We went down the steps of the aircraft, and I noticed a sight I’ll always remember: Everybody – massive and small, was mendacity on the tarmac and kissing the Land of Israel. To today, I inform myself that there are various aliyot, however the aliyah of the Ethiopians was notably transferring. 

“It was an aliyah of a people who preserved its Judaism for two,000 years with none connection to the surface world. It took time and at this time I can say, it’s certainly a land flowing with milk and honey, with a little bit of thorns, however we must always not let anybody query us. That is my nation like everybody else’s, and my social exercise is concentrated on accepting ourselves as we’re – to be pleased with who we’re and to not conceal behind one other identification.’

“This milestone anniversary of Operation Solomon serves as an important reminder for Israel and world Jewry that the entire Jewish persons are accountable for each other. It additionally exhibits, as soon as once more, that when the worldwide Jewish individuals collectively rally collectively round a trigger, nothing is not possible,” mentioned Jewish Company Chairman Isaac Herzog. “An exquisite instance of the facility of our unity are the two,000 new olim The Jewish Company was capable of convey from Ethiopia this previous 12 months, regardless of the pandemic, along with the Aliyah and Integration Ministry, with assist from world Jewry together with the Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod and different donors from around the globe.”

This text was written in cooperation with The Jewish Company for Israel. 

Translated by Alan Rosenbaum.


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