|Planned by||Israeli government and Israeli Defense Forces|
|Objective||To airlift Ethiopian Jews to Israel|
|Outcome||Transported 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 36 hours|
Operation Solomon (Hebrew: מבצע שלמה, Mivtza Shlomo) was a covert Israeli military operation to airlift Ethiopian Jews to Israel from May 24 to May 25, 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. The majority of these Jews were living in the Gondar region of the Ethiopian Highlands and were mostly farmers and artisans. 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 emigrate 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 George H. W. 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 Herman 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. $35 million was raised by the Jewish community to give to the government in Ethiopia so that the Jews could come over to Israel. The money went to the airport expenses in Addis Ababa.
Before Operation Solomon, there was Operation Moses and Operation Joshua, which were two of the other ways that Ethiopian Jews could leave before they were forced to put an end to these type of programs. In between the time when these operations came to an end and Operation Solomon began, a very small number of Ethiopian Jews were able to leave and go to Israel.
The operation was overseen by the Prime Minister at the time, Yitzhak Shamir. It was kept secret by military censorship. Before the flights were put in place, an organization called The American Association of Ethiopian Jews helped make the people of Israel act on the Ethiopian Jews to speed up the process for them coming over to Israel. The organization went right ahead and got transportation like buses and trucks to have the people of Gondar quickly come to Addis Ababa. To get the Jews in Addis Ababa, many of the Jews that came from Gondar had to venture hundreds of miles by car, horses, and by foot. Some had things taken by thieves on the way, and some were even killed. In order to accommodate as many people as possible, airplanes were stripped of their seats, and up to 1,122 passengers were boarded on a single plane. May 24, 1991, also happened to be a Friday which falls on Shabbat for Jews. On the Sabbath, transportation is not used. This made it easier to complete the operation. The Jewish Religious Law mentions that one can break the Sabbath traditions if it is for saving lives.
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. Before Operation Solomon took place, many of the Jews there were at a high risk of infection from diseases, especially HIV. The Jews that were left behind had an even higher risk at the infection because the rate of it kept increasing. After a few months, around 20,000 Jews had made their way over. While they were there, they were struggling for basic resources like food and warmth. They thought they would see their families right away.
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."
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.
Between 1990 and 1999, over 39,000 Ethiopian Jews entered Israel.
Lead-up: Internal Debate within the Jewish community
In the decade leading up to the operation, there was a heated division within the Israeli community over whether to accept the Ethiopians. The reasoning against bringing in Ethiopians proved to be very diverse. Some Jews within Israel feared a "shanda fur di goyim" (embarrassment in front of the non-Jews), and thus aimed to avoid the issue of stirring up controversy by ignoring the pleas of the Ethiopian Jews. Others advocated for the operation, but avoided public demonstrations that might lead to arrests and further public controversy. Taking a completely different approach, others within the Israeli community claimed that there was a cultural divide which would make the integration process untenable; these included Director General of the Jewish Agency's Department of Immigration and Absorption Yehuda Dominitz, who likened this displacement to "taking a fish out of water". Still others elaborated on this vague notion with more provocative claims, such as World Zionist Organization writer Malkah Raymist, who argued that the Ethiopians' "mental outlook is that of children... It would take several years before they could be educated towards a minimum of progressive thinking." However, ultimately, these counter arguments were in vain, as the Israeli government went ahead and conducted the airlift anyway, and the jubilant Ethiopians were greeted as they exited the planes by thousands of joyous Israelis.
Aftermath: Socio-economic strife
Since being transported to Israel, the vast majority of these Beta Israel transfers have struggled to find work within the region. Recent estimates suggest that up to 80 percent of adult immigrants from Ethiopia are unemployed and forced to live off national welfare payments. This struggle can be explained by a number of potential factors. Firstly, the transition from the rural, largely illiterate lands of Ethiopia to a highly urban workforce in Israel has proved difficult, especially when considering the fact that most Ethiopian Jews do not speak Hebrew and are in competition with other, more highly skilled immigrant workers. Nevertheless, the fact that the younger generations of Ethiopian Israelites, who have grown up and been educated in Israel and possess graduate degrees and more forms of formal training, still have a disproportionate amount of trouble finding work suggests that other factors may be at play, including potential racial or even religious bias, given that there has been debate over whether or not Ethiopian Jews should be considered Jewish in the first place.
In popular culture
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- "Yitzhak Shamir's Greatest Legacy Is Operation Solomon, the May 1991 Airlift of Thousands of Ethiopian Jews – Tablet Magazine". www.tabletmag.com. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
- "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.
- Pertman, Adam (June 30, 1991). "Wandering no more For the thousands of Ethiopian Jews who have immigrated to Israel over the last two decades, assimilation has been a wrenching process. Yet, they are fulfilling a life-long dream to live in the Holy Land, and they have few regrets". ProQuest.
- "Operation Solomon". www.zionism-israel.com. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
- Ayalen, Sophia (May 2, 1992). "To Live in Deed". ProQuest.
- "Ethiopia Virtual Jewish Tour". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
- Brinkley, Joel. "Ethiopian Jews and Israelis Exult as Airlift Is Completed". Retrieved 2018-12-01.
- "EXODUS". EBSCOhost. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- Spector, Stephen (2005-03-15). Operation Solomon: The Daring Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199839100.
- Cf. Lungen, Paul. Canadian Jewish News, November 17, 2005.
- Galchinsky, Michael (2004). "Operation Solomon: The Daring Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews (review)". American Jewish History. 92 (4): 522–524. doi:10.1353/ajh.2007.0005. ISSN 1086-3141.
- BenEzer, Gadi (2017), "Ethiopian Jews Encounter Israel", The Migration Journey, Routledge, pp. 180–198, doi:10.4324/9781315133133-8, ISBN 9781315133133
- 1959-, Bard, Mitchell Geoffrey (2002). From tragedy to triumph: the politics behind the rescue of Ethiopian Jewry. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. ISBN 9780313076282. OCLC 651854863.
- Beauchamp, Zack (6 May 2015). "The massive protests by Tel Aviv's Ethiopian Jews hold a crucial lesson for Israel". Vox.
- Barkat, Amiram (29 May 2006). "Ethiopian Immigrants Not Being Prepared for New Life in Israel". haaretz.com.
- editor., Kemp, Adriana (2014). Israelis in conflict : hegemonies, identities and challenges. Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 978-1845196745. OCLC 903482816.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
- "Operation Solomon drama 'Fig Tree' heads to Toronto film fest". Retrieved 2018-12-01.
- "Tale of Israeli Airlift Of Ethiopians Comes To The Big Screen". The Forward. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
- 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; reviewed by George Jochnowitz in the September/October 2005 issue of Midstream
- 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
- Asher Naim (2003). "Saving the Lost Tribe: The Rescue and Redemption of the Ethiopian Jews" Ballantine Publishing Group. ISBN 0-345-45081-7
- Jewish Agency for Israel The Jewish Agency has been responsible for the aliyah from around the world since 1948