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Operation Moses

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

On November 21, 1984 the first major attempt to bring the Ethiopian Jewish community back to Israel begins.

In the beginning of 1984 thousands of Ethiopian Jews embarked on an arduous 600 kilometer journey by foot through the mountains of Ethiopia and through the deserts Sudan. They braved starvation, dehydration, rape, and attacks by brutal militias, with the hope of reaching Sudanese refugee camps where they would meet Israeli officials and be airlifted to Israel. The rumor about the road to Jerusalem through Sudan spread mainly through the Tigre region and on into the Wolkite region. In Sudan, Mossad agents awaited the Ethiopian Jews; as well as members of the community that served as liaisons between the people and Mossad representatives.


During these years, there was a growing awareness of the danger to Jews in the refugee camps of Sudan. The waiting periods in the camps were short at first, but with the arrival of large waves of refugees, things became more complicated. The evacuations became slower and slower with many families waiting months and even years in the camps under some of the most inhumane and harsh conditions. Many succumbed to malnutrition, infection, and disease with dozens of men, women, and especially children being buried every single day. More than 4000 Ethiopian Jews perished on the road to Sudan and during their time in the refugee camps.


Evacuations from the camps were done exclusively under the cover of night at various gathering sites. Cloaked in dark clothing the Ethiopian Jewish refugees travelled to the Sudanese coast where Mossad agents and the Israeli navy waited for the new immigrants. From there hundreds of people boarded ships and planes to take them to Eilat, and from there to various absorption centers throughout Israel.


The operation ended prematurely on January 5, 1985 following a leak to the Israeli press about the secret operation and the Sudanese Government halted political contact with Israel. During the course of that year approximately 6,500 Ethiopian Jews, most of the originating from the Gondar region, were brought to Israel by air and sea. However thousands of Jews remained in Sudanese camps, starved and diseased. Many Jews were unaware that the immigration through Sudan had stopped, and continued to arrive and eventually had to make their way back to Ethiopia over the same 600 kilometers of desert and mountains.


(Information obtained from: https://mfa.gov.il/MFA/AboutIsrael/People/Pages/Operation-Moses-Israel%E2%80%99s-Ethiopian-community.aspx)

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