Today in History: Operation Solomon Carried Out Saving Thousands of Ethiopian Jews

Today in History: Operation Solomon Carried Out Saving Thousands of Ethiopian Jews

M.C. Millman

The year was 1991 when Israel launched a record-breaking daring rescue mission for over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews, known as Operation Solomon.

Ethiopia had been in a decades-long civil war and a recent famine leading up to the Operation. Israel realized that there was a very narrow window to get Jews out of Ethiopia. 

On March 7, Israeli diplomat Uri Lubrani reported on the worsening situation in Ethiopia. Lubraini advised "an emergency plan, for the protection and evacuation of the Jewish community."

The Jewish Virtual Library described the plan's first steps: allocating $35 million to pay off the Ethiopian government to grant permission for the Jews to leave. Next, the logistics had to be arranged to airlift all the Ethiopian Jews from Ethiopia to Israel.

The Jewish Agency reported that an agreement was reached on May 23, allowing Jews to leave Ethiopia - immediately after President George H.W. Bush sent a letter to the new Ethiopian President, Tesfaye Gebre Kidan. Israel wasted no time, and Operation Solomon began the following day.

Thirty-four aircraft, El Al jumbo jets, and Hercules C-130s, were allocated to the task by the Israel Aur Forces. Seats of the planes were removed to make room for as many passengers as possible on each aircraft. 

At noon on May 24, the first Boeing plane took off. Never before," IAF Commander Major General Avihu Ben-Nun said, "did so few pilots transport such a great number of people in such a short time."

The Ethiopian Jews fled their country with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Operation Solomon set a world record for the highest number of passengers on a single flight - 1,122 passengers. There were also two babies born on that flight.  

The first plane landed in Tel Aviv at 5 p.m. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and other government officials greeted the passengers upon arrival.

"Everyone looked tired and scared," recalled reporter Anat Tal-Shir. "The children stayed close to their mothers. A young man carried his elderly father on his shoulders. They both bent down and kissed the Israeli soil."

According to the JDC, the Operation was designed to take 48 hours but was completed in just 36, making Operation Solomon a "modern miracle."

photo credit: Flickr

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