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Ethiopian Jews disembarking from a jet plane at an Israeli Air Force base, 24 May 1991.

Operation Solomon (Hebrew: מִבְצָע שלמה, Mivtza Shlomo) was a 1991 covert Israeli military operation to take Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Background[edit | edit source]

In 1991, the sitting Ethiopian government of Mengistu Haile Mariam was close to being toppled with the recent military successes of Eritrean and Tigrean rebels, threatening Ethiopia with dangerous political destabilization. Several Jewish organizations, including the state of Israel, were concerned about the well-being of the sizable population of Ethiopian Jews, known as Beta Israel, residing in Ethiopia. Also, the Mengistu regime had made mass emigration difficult for Beta Israel residing in Ethiopia, and the regime's dwindling power presented a promising opportunity for those Beta Israel who had been wanting to emigrate to Israel. In the previous year, 1990, the Israeli government and Israeli Defense Forces, aware of Mengistu's worsening political situation, made covert plans to airlift the Beta Israel population in Ethiopia to Israel. This became the largest emigration of Beta Israel to date. The American government was significantly involved in the organization of the airlift, with the decision on the part of the Ethiopian government to allow all of the Jews to leave the country at once being largely motivated by a letter from President Bush. Previous to this action, Mengistu Haile Miriam intended to allow emigration only in exchange for support from Israel (in the form of weaponry) and America.[1]

Negotiations[edit | edit source]

Also involved in the Israeli and Ethiopian governments’ attempts to facilitate the operation was a group of American diplomats led by Senator Rudy Boschwitz, including Irvin Hicks, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; Robert Frasure, the Director of the African Affairs at the White House National Security Council; and Robert Houdek the Chargé d'Affaires of the United States Embassy in Addis Ababa. Boschwitz had been sent as a special emissary of President Bush, and he and his team met with the government of Ethiopia to aid Israel in the arranging of the airlift. In addition, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Hank Cohen also played an important role, as he was the international mediator of the civil war in Ethiopia.[2] In response to the efforts of the diplomats, acting President of Ethiopia Tesfaye Gebre-Kidan made the ultimate decision to allow the airlift.[3] The negotiations surrounding the operation led to the eventual London roundtable discussions, which established a joint declaration by the Ethiopian combatants who then agreed to organize a conference to select a transitional government.[2]

Operation[edit | edit source]

In 36 hours, non-stop flights of 34 Israeli aircraft, including IAF C-130s and El Al cargo planes, transported 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.[4] In order to accommodate as many people as possible, airplanes were stripped of their seats and immigrants were squashed into the plane, with as many as one thousand two hundred in a plane. Many of the immigrants carried nothing with them except their clothes and cooking instruments, and were met by ambulances, with the one hundred forty frailest of the passengers receiving medical care on the tarmac. Several pregnant women even gave birth on the plane, and they and their babies were rushed to the hospital.[5] Although the immigrants came in poor condition, they and the other Israelis cheered and rejoiced. One of the immigrants, twenty-nine year old Mukat Abag, said, "We didn't bring any of our clothes, we didn't bring any of our things, but we are very glad to be here".[1] Many considered this as proof against the United Nation’s resolution that Zionists are racist, since the white and brown Jews in Israel welcomed the black Ethiopian Jews with open arms.[5] The majority of the airlift took place on Sabbath; however, there were no complaints, since Jewish law actually encourages the violation of Sabbath if it is to save lives. In fact, the Sabbath made the operation easier because all the aircraft and buses that needed to be used were idle. The Israeli government placed the entire operation under total military censorship, and did not lift it until the operation was completed. Even afterwards, it refused to discuss details with other countries due to commitments it has made to the United States and Ethiopian governments.[1]

Result[edit | edit source]

Operation Solomon airlifted almost twice as many Ethiopian Jews to Israel as Operation Moses. The operation set a world record for single-flight passenger load on May 24, 1991 when an El Al 747 carried 1,122 passengers to Israel (1,087 passengers were registered, but dozens of children hid in their mothers' robes). "Planners expected to fill the aircraft with 760 passengers. Because the passengers were so light, many more were squeezed in."[6] Five babies were born aboard the planes.[4]

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Naomi Samuel (1999). The Moon is Bread. Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 965-229-212-5
  • Shmuel Yilma (1996). From Falasha to Freedom: An Ethiopian Jew's Journey to Jerusalem. Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 965-229-169-2
  • Alisa Poskanzer (2000). Ethiopian Exodus. Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 965-229-217-6
  • Baruch Meiri (2001). The Dream Behind Bars: The Story of the Prisoners of Zion from Ethiopia. Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 965-229-221-4
  • Stephen Spector (2005). Operation Solomon: The Daring Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-517782-4
  • Ricki Rosen (2006). Transformations: From Ethiopia to Israel. ISBN 965-229-377-6
  • Gad Shimron (2007). Mossad Exodus: The Daring Undercover Rescue of the Lost Jewish Tribe . Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 978-965-229-403-6

External links[edit | edit source]

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