Operation Solomon (Hebrew: מִבְצָע שלמה, Mivtza Shlomo) was a covert Israeli military operation to airlift Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1991. Non-stop flights of 35 Israeli aircraft, including Israeli Air Force C-130s and El Al Boeing 747s, transported 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 36 hours.
In 1991, the sitting Ethiopian government of Mengistu Haile Mariam was close to being toppled with the military successes of Eritrean and Tigrean rebels, threatening Ethiopia with dangerous political destabilization. World Jewish organizations and Israel were concerned about the well-being of the Ethiopian Jews, known as Beta Israel, residing in Ethiopia. Also, the Mengistu regime had made mass emigration difficult for Beta Israel and the regime's dwindling power presented an opportunity for those wanting to immigrate to Israel. In 1990, the Israeli government and Israeli Defense Forces, aware of Mengistu's worsening political situation, made covert plans to airlift the Jews to Israel. The American government was involved in the organization of the airlift. The decision of the Ethiopian government to allow all the Jews to leave the country at once was largely motivated by a letter from President Bush. Previous to this, Mengistu intended to allow emigration only in exchange for weaponry.
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. In response to the efforts of the diplomats, acting President of Ethiopia Tesfaye Gebre-Kidan made the ultimate decision to allow the airlift. 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.
In order to accommodate as many people as possible, airplanes were stripped of their seats and up to 1,200 passengers were boarded on a single plane. Many of the immigrants came with nothing except their clothes and cooking instruments, and were met by ambulances, with 140 frail passengers receiving medical care on the tarmac. Several pregnant women gave birth on the plane, and they and their babies were rushed to the hospital.
Upon arrival, the passengers cheered and rejoiced. 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". The majority of the airlift took place on Sabbath; however, there were no complaints, since Jewish law encourages the violation of Sabbath if it is to save Jewish 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.
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." Five babies were born aboard the planes.
- "Ethiopian Jews and Israelis Exult as Airlift Is Completed". May 26, 1991. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- "Remarks at the Awards Presentation Ceremony for Emigration Assistance to Ethiopian Jews June 4, 1991.". EBSCOhost. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- "Statement by Press Secretary Fitzwater on the Airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel May 24, 1991.". EBSCOhost. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- "EXODUS.". EBSCOhost. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- Cf. Lungen, Paul. Canadian Jewish News, November 17, 2005.
- 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