Israel's Secret Ethiopian Rescue

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This post is in honor of our 6 year anniversary of GOTCHA DAY, the day we "got" our kids in Ethiopia and kept them forever.

About a month ago, Chris was having lunch with a new co-worker.  When he discovered we adopted from Ethiopia, he rather excitedly shared a story about a secret mission to bring 16,000 Ethiopian Jews home to Israel back in the 1990's.  The details were so unbelievable!  But you can't doubt an eyewitness and this co-worker WAS an eyewitness.  At the time, he was a young Israeli in the military.  And he was part of this mission!  We marveled at the story and moved on with life.

Wouldn't you know it, this story came up again this month.  Hope is giving a Cultural Presentation in her class and so, of course, I got out our Ethiopia books, clothes, toys, etc and helped her put together a short talk about her ancestors.  She also wanted to print some pictures for a poster.  In my search for just the right picture, I found two articles about that secret mission!  It was recently declassified so the info is out there now.  Here's what I learned.

Beta Israel

There had been a small population of Jews living tucked away in the northern hills of Ethiopia for generations.  They are called Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews.)  Their lineage is uncertain but it is believed they are one of "The Lost Tribes of Israel," specifically from the tribe of Dan.  No one knew they were there!In the mid-1980's, the ongoing civil wars in Ethiopia combined with the ongoing famine forced this "lost tribe" to come down out of the hills and move into a refugee camp in Sudan.  Many died in the journey.  Those that made it sent letters to Israel for help.  A shocked Israel was quick to respond after the horrors of near genocide during World War II.  The problem was, the Ethiopian government wasn't willing to let their people go.

Operation Moses

So, a secret plan was made to move the Ethiopian Jews out of the Sudanese camp slowly, covertly.  They couldn't do it as a military operation and they couldn't make enough noise to get noticed.  So, Israel sent military troops in civilian clothes on civilian planes and rescued Ethiopian Jews one plane-load at a time.  This mission was called, "Operation Moses."    Unfortunately, the civil unrest was getting worse and the mission had to stop.  However, during those 3 months, 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were successfully moved to Israel.

Operation Solomon

Now, Israel had to get really creative.  Israel worked back channels with America and Britain and a private businessman and got permission (money changed hands) to take the rest of the Ethiopian Jews from Ethiopia's capital city, Addis Ababa.  In May 1991, in less than 24 hours, Israeli military brought around 14,000 Ethiopian Jews home to Israel.  They used 30 airplanes, seats removed to allow more people onboard, and flew non-stop flights between Addis and Jerusalem.  In one flight, they broke a world record for the most people flown in one flight, 1,122. (There were probably more due to the fact that little ones hid in their mother's clothes.  At least one baby was born during the flight to Israel.)  This mission was called, "Operation Solomon" and it was a complete success.

As far as I can tell, there were very few Beta Israel left in Ethiopia after Operation Solomon.  But I did find one article that reported the very last (around 7,500) were flown to Israel in August 2013.

All told, they rescued the entire Ethiopian Jew population, roughly the capacity of the Golden 1 Arena.  

Now declassified, it is known as the greatest humanitarian effort of all time.  And the world never knew.