Operation Moses

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Operation Moses (Hebrew: מִבְצָע מֹשֶׁה‎, Mivtza Moshe) refers to the covert evacuation of Ethiopian Jews (known as the "Beta Israel" community or "Falashas")[1] from Sudan during a civil war that caused a famine in 1984. Originally called Gur Aryeh Yehuda (“Cub of the Lion of Judah”) by Israelis, the United Jewish Appeal changed the name to “Operation Moses.”[2]


The operation, named after the biblical figure Moses, was a cooperative effort between the Israel Defense Forces, the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States embassy in Khartoum, mercenaries, and Sudanese state security forces.[3] Years after the operation completed, it was revealed that Sudanese Muslims and secret police of Sudan also played a role in facilitating the mass migration of Ethiopian Jews out of Sudan.[4] Operation Moses was the brainchild of then Associate U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs, Richard Krieger. After receiving accounts of the persecution of Ethiopian Jews in the refugee camps, Krieger came up with the idea of an airlift and met with Mossad and Sudanese representatives to facilitate the Operation.[5][6]

After a secret Israeli cabinet meeting in November 1984, the decision was made to go forward with Operation Moses.[7] Beginning November 21, 1984, it involved the air transport by Trans European Airways of some 8,000 Ethiopian Jews from Sudan via Brussels to Israel, ending January 5, 1985.

Over those seven weeks, over 30 flights brought about 200 Ethiopian Jews at a time to Israel.[8] Trans European Airways had flown out of Sudan previously with Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca, so using TEA was a logical solution for this semi-covert operation because it would not provoke questions from the airport authorities.[9] Before this operation, there were approximately as few as 250 Ethiopian immigrants in Israel.[10] Thousands of Beta Israel had fled Ethiopia on foot for refugee camps in Sudan, a journey which usually took anywhere from two weeks to a month.[11] It is estimated as many as 4,000 died during the trek, due to violence and illness along the way. Sudan secretly allowed Israel to evacuate the refugees. Two days after the airlifts began, Jewish journalists wrote about “the mass rescue of thousands of Ethiopian Jews.”[12]

Operation Moses ended on Friday, January 5, 1985, after Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres held a press conference confirming the airlift while asking people not to talk about it. Sudan killed the airlift moments after Peres stopped speaking, ending it prematurely as the news began to reach their Arab allies.[13] Once the story broke in the media, Arab countries pressured Sudan to stop the airlift. Although thousands made it successfully to Israel, many children died in the camps or during the flight to Israel, and it was reported that their parents brought their bodies down from the aircraft with them.[14] Some 1,000 Ethiopian Jews were left behind, approximately 500 of whom were evacuated later in the U.S.-led Operation Joshua.[15] More than 1,000 so-called "orphans of circumstance" existed in Israel, children separated from their families still in Africa, until five years later Operation Solomon took 14,324 more Jews to Israel in 1991.[16] Operation Solomon in 1991 cost Israel $26 million to pay off the dictator-led government, while Operation Moses had been the least expensive of all rescue operations undertaken by Israel to aid Jews in other countries.[17]

Operation Dove Wing 2010; 2015-2020[edit]

On 14 November 2010, the Israeli cabinet approved a plan to allow an additional 8,000 Falash Mura to immigrate to Israel.[18][1]

On November 16, 2015, the Israeli cabinet unanimously voted in favor of allowing the last group of Falash Mura to immigrate over the next five years, but their acceptance will be conditional on a successful Jewish conversion process, according to the Interior Ministry.[19] In April 2016, they announced that a total of 10,300 people would be included in the latest round of Aliyah, over the following 5 years.[20][21]

Cultural references[edit]

This operation was the subject of an Israeli-French film titled Live and Become, directed by Romanian-born Radu Mihăileanu. The film centers on an Ethiopian child whose Christian mother passes him as a Jew so he can immigrate to Israel along with the Jews in order to escape the famine that is looming in Ethiopia. The film went on to win the 2005 award for Best Film at the Copenhagen International Film Festival.[22]

In the book World War Z by Max Brooks, the evacuation of African Jews to Israel in response to the outbreak of the titular epidemic is referred to as Operation Moses II.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Operation Moses". Historyofwar.org. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  2. ^ Lenhoff, Howard (2007). Black Jews, Jews, and Other Heroes: How Grassroots Activism Led to the Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews. Gefen Publishing House. p. 263. ISBN 978-9652293657.
  3. ^ Aliyah through Sudan Archived 2010-12-06 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Lenhoff, Howard (2007). Black Jews, Jews, and Other Heroes: How Grassroots Activism Led to the Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews. Gefen Publishing House. p. 214. ISBN 978-9652293657.
  5. ^ Bard, Mitchell; Lenhoff, Howard. "Ethiopian Jewry: America's Role in the Rescue of Ethiopian Jewry". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  6. ^ "Redemption Song". google.com. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  7. ^ "Today in History: Operation Moses". IDF.
  8. ^ Omer-Man, Michael. "This week in History: Operation Moses begins". The Jerusalem Post.
  9. ^ Lenhoff, Howard (2007). Black Jews, Jews, and Other Heroes: How Grassroots Activism Led to the Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews. Gefen Publishing House. p. 236. ISBN 978-9652293657.
  10. ^ Kaplan, Steven & Salamon, Hagar (2004). Jews in Israel: Contemporary Social and Cultural Patterns. Brandeis. p. Chapter Five: Ethiopian Jews in Israel: A Part of the People or Apart from the People?. ISBN 978-1584653271.
  11. ^ Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. "Operation Moses – Aliyah of Ethiopian Jewry (1984)".
  12. ^ Lenhoff, Howard (2007). Black Jews, Jews, and Other Heroes: How Grassroots Activism Led to the Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews. Gefen Publishing House. p. 264. ISBN 978-9652293657.
  13. ^ "Black Over White: Info on Ethiopian Jews".
  14. ^ Jewish Chronicle. "Operation Moses Suspended: January 5 1985: The world learns of the rescue of Ethiopian Jews".
  15. ^ Kaplan, Steven & Salamon, Hagar (2004). Jews in Israel: Contemporary Social and Cultural Patterns (Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry). Brandeis. p. Chapter Five. ISBN 978-1584653271.
  16. ^ "The History of Ethiopian Jews". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2013-08-31.
  17. ^ Lenhoff, Howard (2007). Black Jews, Jews, and Other Heroes:. Gefen Publishing House. p. 214. ISBN 978-9652293657.
  18. ^ "Israel to allow in 8,000 Falash Mura from Ethiopia". BBC News. 2010-11-14. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  19. ^ Reuters November 16, 2015
  20. ^ Coalition crisis averted: 9000 Ethiopian immigrants to be brought to Israel over 5 years
  21. ^ Jewish Virtul Library
  22. ^ "Live and Become (2005)". IMDb. 1 February 2008. Retrieved 24 May 2016.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Parfitt, Tudor (1985) Operation Moses: the untold story of the secret exodus of the Falasha Jews from Ethiopia. London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • Meiri, Baruch 2001, "The Dream Behind Bars: The Story of the Prisoners of Zion from Ethiopia", Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 965-229-221-4
  • Poskanzer, Alisa 2000, "Ethiopian Exodus", Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 965-229-217-6
  • Rosen, Ricki 2006, "Transformations: From Ethiopia to Israel", Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 965-229-377-6
  • Samuel, Naomi 1999, "The Moon is Bread", Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 965-229-212-5
  • Shimron, Gad 2007, "Mossad Exodus; The Daring Undercover Rescue of the Lost Jewish Tribe", Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 978-965-229-403-6
  • Yilma, Shmuel 1996, "From Falasha to Freedom: An Ethiopian Jew's Journey to Jerusalem", Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 965-229-169-2
  • Viktor Ostrovsky (1990), By Way of Deception, Stoddard Publishing

Coordinates: 20°00′18″N 37°11′26″E / 20.00500°N 37.19056°E / 20.00500; 37.19056