On Passover, as Jews worldwide remember the story of the exodus from Egypt, IDF remembers three operations that emancipated Ethiopian Jews in the 1990s
During Passover we tell the story of the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt, but it is not the only story of restored freedom in the Jewish History. During this time of year, we are reminded of three IAF operations that granted freedom to Ethiopian Jews.
Thousands of years after the Jewish people escaped from Egypt, IDF rescued thousands of Jews from Ethiopia and brought to the promised land of Israel in the 20th century version of the exodus story.
On November 22nd, 1984, an aerial operation began in order to free 'Beta Israel' Jews who resided in refugee camps in Sudan. Years before the operation, thousands of Ethiopian Jews walked for miles in order to reach the Sudanese border. Many tragically died along the way however those who completed the arduous journey arrived at temporary camps, where they waited until they could be transported to Israel on navy ships and Israeli airplanes.
The Israeli Government then began a special operation called 'Operation Moses', appropriately named after the legendary prophet who led the Jewish people toward the Promised Land. During the operation, approximately eight thousand Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel on IAF planes. President of Sudan, Jahar Numiri, who ignored the fleeing of the Jews, announced that Jews still living in Ethiopia are legally forbidden from leaving to the State of Israel.
Winds of Hope blew in from a new direction: Vice President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, indicated that Americans will help in the transport of the Jews left in refugee camps in Ethiopia, without the intervention of Israel. The mission was called 'Operation Sheba' or 'Operation Joshua'.
During the operation, six Hercules airplanes of the U.S Air Force landed near Al Qadarif, Sudan in order to locate the people who were left behind. Three of them came back empty of passengers, though the others transported around 500 Jews to the Uvda Airbase in southern Israel. A few days later, the President of Sudan was removed from office as a result of his cooperation with Israel and a new law was instated: anyone who cooperated with the transportation of Ethiopian Jews would be executed or imprisoned.
15,000 Jews were left in Sudan and Ethiopia. Families were forcibly sparated, since many did not get the chance to flee to Israel along with their. It became almost impossible for Ethiopian Jews to reach the land of milk and honey.
In the largest aerial expedition in Israeli history, 14,500 Jews were transported to Israel in two days on May 24, 1991. For security purposes, the operation was kept a secret until the last plane landed in Israel.36 hours and 34 planes were all it took to bring almost all Ethiopian Jews home.
Almost 20 years later, the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, who led the ground operation as commander of the Shaldag Unit, IAF's elite commando force, spoke of the operation: "As commander of Shaldag Unit, I had to deal primarily with the technical details of the operation. Only during the mission did I get a sense of how meaningful it was to be part of this crucial event. It's a turning point in my service which encompasses both my Zionistic values and the meaning of our existence in this country".