Operation Solomon – The Fulfillment of a Dream

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The grim prospect of thousands of Jewish children growing up separated from their parents in Israel almost became a reality. Little could be done to persuade the Mariam government to increase the trickle of Jews leaving Ethiopia in the years between Operations Joshua and Solomon. But in November 1990, Ethiopia and Israel reached an agreement that would allow Ethiopian Jews to move to Israel under the context of family reunification. It soon became clear, however, that Mengistu was willing to allow Ethiopian Jews to leave outside of the guise of reunification. November and December, 1990, showed increased numbers of Ethiopians leaving for Israel. The Ethiopian Jews were finally ready to come home.

Operation Solomon, named for the king from whom one of the theories suggest that the Beta Israel draw their lineage, ended almost as quickly as it began. Timing was crucial, since any delay by Israel could have allowed the rebels to hold the Jews as bargaining chips with Israel or the United States. A total of 14,324 Ethiopian Jews were rescued and resettled in Israel, a modern exodus of the grandest design. Operation Solomon rescued nearly double the number of Jews as were saved during Operation Moses and Joshua, and it did so in a mere fraction of the time.In early 1991, Eritrean and Tigrean rebels began a concerted attack on Mengistu forces, meeting with surprising success for the first time since the civil war began in 1975. With the rebel armies advancing each day, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam fled his country in early May. Rebels claimed control of the capital Addis Ababa shortly thereafter, and the situation of the Beta Israel took top priority in Israel. The Likud government of Yitzhak Shamir authorized a special permit for the Israeli airline, El Al, to fly on the Jewish Sabbath. On Friday, May 24, and continuing non-stop for 36 hours, a total of 34 El Al jumbo jets and Hercules C-130s—seats removed to accommodate the maximum number of Ethiopians—began a new chapter in the struggle for the freedom of Ethiopian Jewry.

More than 36,000 Ethiopian Jews now live in Israel and despite both economic and social hardships, their community has an integral part in Israeli society. In 1999, Avraham Yitzhak became the first Ethiopian immigrant to earn an MD degree from an Israeli medical school. In 2011, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed Rachamim Elazar as Israel’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, making him the first Israeli of Ethiopian descent to ever serve as an ambassador for the State of Israel. There are still many problems within the Ethiopian community in Israel – poverty, lack of education, etc – but large strides are being made every day.

Sources: Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ). Written by the staff of PRIMER – Promoting Research in the Middle East Region;  Israel Hayom (August 29, 2013);  Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; “Israel approves ‘last’ round of Ethiopian immigration,” Al Arabiya (November 15, 2015)

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