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History > Operation Moses
In the Beginning Operation Solomon
Exile in Ethiopia The Falasha Mura
Operation Moses The Jews of Qara


Covert operations by Israeli operatives smuggling Ethiopian Jews into Israel had begun as early as 1980. By the end of 1982, some 2,500 Ethiopian Jews had been resettled in Israel and over the course of 1983 another 1,800 left Sudan on foot. In order to operate more quickly, Israeli agents began using Hercules transport planes each with a holding capacity of 200 immigrants per flight.

The large numbers of Jews crossing on foot into Sudan was taking a horrible human toll and creating dangerous conditions in the refugee camps. Israeli agents realized that a large-scale operation was necessary. Operation Moses thus began on November 21, 1984. Refugees were bused directly from the Sudanese camps to a military airport near Khartoum. Under a shroud of secrecy established by a news blackout, they were then airlifted directly to Israel. Between November 21, 1984 and January 5, 1985, approximately 8,000 Ethiopian Jews came home to Israel.

News leaks ended Operation Moses prematurely, as Arab nations pressured the Sudanese government to disallow Ethiopian Jews to cross Sudanese territory. About 1,000 Jews were left behind in Sudan, and tens of thousands more remained in Ethiopia. Babu Yakov, a community leader summed up the situation in saying that many of those left behind were the ones unable to make the dangerous trek across Sudan - women, children and the elderly. He continued, "Those least capable of defending themselves are now facing their enemies." Approximately 4,000 Ethiopian Jews died on the overland, on-foot journey through Sudan.

In 1985, then Vice President George Bush initiated a CIA follow-up called Operation Joshua to bring 800 of the 1,000 remaining in Sudan to Israel. During the next five years however, negotiations to continue operations fell on deaf ears among the Mariam administration.

In Israel, Ethiopian Jews began learning Hebrew and beginning the long processes of absorption and integration into Israeli society, spending between six months and two years in absorption centers. Ethiopian immigrants began training to prepare themselves for living in an industrialized society.

The barriers erected by social and cultural differences were difficult for many to overcome. Ethiopian Jewish refugees came from a developing nation with a rural economy, into a western nation with a high-tech market economy. Integration and social equality often escaped newcomers and problems involving their religious status, employment, education and housing remain to this day. Immigration brought changes in family life, community life and social status patterns. Assimilation and acculturation with regards to religious and oral traditions, social and cultural practices and language took their toll as well. The joy of returning to "Zion" was therefore tinged for many with the anxiety and depression of departure and separation. Approximately 1,600 Ethiopian children became "orphans of circumstance," separated from their parents, brothers, sisters and extended families who were left behind.

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