THE EXODUS OF ETHIOPIAN JEWS: Operation Moses

THE EXODUS OF ETHIOPIAN JEWS: Operation Moses

Operation Moses was a covert operation to evacuate Ethiopian Jews (Falashas) from Sudan during a 1984 Civil War that caused severe famine. The Israelis initially called the operation Gur Aryeh Yehuda (“Cub of the Lion of Judah”) before the United Jewish Appeal changed the name.

HISTORY OF OPERATION MOSES

The operation, named after the biblical figure Moses, was a cooperative effort between the Israel Defense Forces, the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States embassy in Khartoummercenaries, and Sudanese state security forces.

It was revealed years after the operation, that Sudanese Muslims and secret police of Sudan also played a role in facilitating the mass migration of Ethiopian Jews out of Sudan. 

Operation Moses was thought up by Richard Krieger, who was then Associate U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs, after he had received several accounts of the persecution of Ethiopian Jews. Krieger then came up with the idea of an airlift and met with Mossad and Sudanese representatives to facilitate the Operation.

After a secret Israeli cabinet meeting in November 1984, the decision was made to go forward with Operation Moses. The operation began on November 21, 1984, and it involved the air transport by Trans European Airways of some 8,000 Ethiopian Jews from Sudan via Brussels to Israel. The operation ended on January 5, 1985.

Over the course of Operation Moses, over 30 flights flew about 200 Ethiopian Jews at a time to Israel. Trans European Airways had flown out of Sudan previously with Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca, so it was a logical approach the airline company to be used for the operation as it would not arouse suspisions from the airport authorities. 

Prior to Operation Moses, there were approximately as few as 250 Ethiopian immigrants in Israel. Thousands of Beta Israel had fled Ethiopia on foot for refugee camps in Sudan, a journey which usually took anywhere from two weeks to a month. 

Sudan secretly allowed Israel to evacuate the refugees. Two days after the airlifts began, Jewish journalists wrote about “the mass rescue of thousands of Ethiopian Jews.”

Operation Moses ended on Friday, January 5, 1985, after Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres held a press conference confirming the airlift while asking people not to talk about it. Sudan killed the airlift moments after Peres stopped speaking, ending it prematurely as the news began to reach their Arab allies. 

Upon the media breaking the news, Arab countries pressured Sudan to stop the airlift. Although thousands made it successfully to Israel, many children died in the camps or during the flight to Israel, and it was reported that their parents brought their bodies down from the aircraft with them. 

About 1,000 Ethiopian Jews were left behind, approximately 500 of whom were evacuated later in the U.S.-led Operation Joshua. More than 1,000 so-called “orphans of circumstance”; children separated from their families still in Africa, existed in Israel until five years later when Operation Solomon took over 14,000 more Jews to Israel in 1991.

By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi

Oluwamayowa Akinyemi

Oluwamayowa Akinyemi is a digital and web content developer with experience in web content development and management as well as research and writing. He is an avid reader of random subject matters and a sucker for movies and video games. He is also passionate about youth empowerment and is a global affairs analyst and enthusiast.

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