If you were to go on a fully booked all economy flight for 4 hours straight, you would be dreading the very thought of going on it; but not the passengers of an El Al Boeing 747 on the 24th May, 1991. In fact, most of them were quite happy to be leaving a very dangerous country of Ethiopia at a time of great famine and war. According to guinness world records, 1088 of Ethiopia’s Jewish population crowded on to an El Al 747, stripped off seats and carpets, that had been commissioned by the Israeli government. This flight was one of many in the operation known as Operation Solomon.
Why were they evacuated?
In 1980s and early 1990s, the Ethiopian government led by Mengistu Haile Mariam was close to being overthrown by Eritrean and Tigrean rebels, threatening Ethiopia with political destabilisation. Organisations such as the American Association of Ethiopian Jews (AAEJ) and Israel grew increasingly concerned for the well-being of Ethiopia’s Jewish population, and they had already made evacuation flights during Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Joshua in 1985, but they didn’t make anymore after that due to complicated international relations. The majority of Ethiopian Jews lived in the Gondar region of Ethiopia so would have to travel 409 miles (658 kilometers) to the nearest airport which was in the capital city, Addis Ababa. However, George.W. Bush wrote a letter to the Ethiopian Government convincing them to the finally let the Jews be evacuated to the Israel. So, in 1989, the call went out to the Ethiopian Jews to make their way to Addis Ababa to prepare for the evacuation.
Israeli Air force C-130 Hercules were used in Operation Moses alongside El Al 747s. (Credit:en.Wikipedia.com)
The US and Israel decided to use a mixture of Israeli Air Force (IAF) C-130 Hercules’ and El al 747s and the whole operation was said to have been carried out within 36 hours. The entire operation was overseen by the then current israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, and was kept secret from the public by military censorship.Many of the immigrants had come just with cooking tools and their own clothes, which meant many did not have medicinal resources, and so 140 people were given medical attention on the apron. The Ethiopian Jews were transported to the airport from where they were staying by Israeli soldiers (Of which there were many as conscription is mandatory from the age of 18 in Israel) of ethiopian descent. All in all, the Israeli defence force used 34 planes, hundreds of soldiers and 14,200 Jews were evacuated.
The record breaker
Many people debate the number of people that were airlifted to Israel on the record breaking flight; With some people saying that as many as 1,122 people or some saying there were 1,078. However, the most common answer is 1,088 all in the 747. The refugees were met with press when the planes arrived and all were brought to Jerusalem from Addis Ababa.
Ethiopian Jews board a flight bound for Jerusalem. (Credit: thjc.com)
All in all, we can conclude that the operation was a huge success, with many being evacuated to their desired homeland. It was all down to the AAEJ and the American and Israeli governments for the evacuation and the Jewish families were given a safe place away from the ethiopian civil war. We can say that the operation was a success and many ethiopian jews live to tell the tale of how they escaped from the rebels closing in on them.
Halfasinteresting.com, guinnessworldrecords.com, Wikipedia.com, jewishmuseum.org.uk
(Featured image credit: haaertz.com)