Friday 5 October 2007

Operation Solomon - from Ethiopia to Israel, 1991

"Ben-Gurion airport at 20:45 on 24 May 1991. It was a Friday night. An El Al jumbo jet landed on the tarmac and taxied to a halt in front of a throng of soldiers, officials and journalists. The plane was marked with large letters spelling CARGO.

Moments later, the doors opened to reveal the precious shipment: hundreds of shy, bewildered and bedraggled Ethiopian Jews. A boy waved effusively. Old men in white robes shuffled down the steps clinging to the rail. A blind woman was led down by a child. Many were barefoot. It was a scene drawn from the biblical Exodus, except that these Jews did not walk through the Red Sea but were carried aloft over it, a feat that for many of the immigrants was almost as miraculous.

They had no possessions except for some who clutched plastic bags. Israeli soldiers rushed up the steps to help the frail. Many still had stickers on their foreheads, placed there by Israeli officials trying to identify family groups to be airlifted out of Addis Ababa. The reception committee lost all dignity and swamped the new arrivals. In the crush of people, I felt something touch my hand. It was a little Ethiopian boy grasping my fingers and grinning. “Shalom”, he said.

The scene was played out just a few months after Israel had been powerless as Irak rained Scud missiles on its cities during the Gulf War. Here, finally, was something to cheer about. It was a moment of wonder for all Israeli Jews; Zionism was proving its role as a refuge. For the first time in history, declared the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir, black people were being transported not to slavery, but to freedom.

… Israel ransomed the Ethiopian Jews at the cost of about $2,000 each.

Some two dozen aircraft - El Al airliners, military transporters and even an Ethiopian Airlines plane - ferried about 15,000 Beta Israel in a continuous air bridge lasting just over a day under the code-name of ‘Operation Solomon’. Addis Ababa’s airport was turned for that time into an extension of sovereign Israel. No visas were required to leave; all you needed was approval from Israeli officials on the ground who had the power to decide who was a Jew and who was not. The logistics experts calculated that by stripping the aircraft t the bare minimum (some planes had only a carpet of mattresses to accommodate the passengers) and by estimating that the average underfed Ethiopian weighed much less than Israelis, they would be able to carry an unprecedented number of passengers. The jumbo I saw carried 1,068 passengers, a record for the aviation books."
In Holy Land, Unholy War, Israelis and Palestinians, by Anton La Guardia (2001), John Murray Paperbacks, pp. 253-254
Poster by BlueStarPR, The Jewish Ink Tank
Remember Operation Solomon, 36 hours in May 1991
"Israel rescued 14,325 Jews whose lives were endangered by rebel fighters in Ethiopia. To fit as many people as possible, Israel removed the airplanes’ seats. The new Israeli citizens joined the 2 million Israeli Jews indigenous to the Middle East and Africa. The majority of Israeli Jews do not come from Europe."

No comments: