AFRICANGLOBE – The Organization for the Memory of Jews who perished in Sudan on their Way to Zion, a group representing Ethiopian Jews who were brought to Israel during 1984’s Operation Moses rescue, has filed a petition with Israel’s High Court of Justice demanding that the state pay compensation to those Jews because of the high number of their family members who died after Israel leaked news of the rescue, causing Sudan’s leader, Jaafar Nimeiry, to call a halt to the clandestine rescue flights.
According to the petition, the rescue of Ethiopian Jews in the beginning of the 1980s was undertaken under the auspices of the state and the state is therefore responsible for its sloppy execution. Therefore the state should compensate the families for their losses, and offer them support and assistance “in wake of the harsh scars they carry with them as a result of the death of their loved ones on the way to Israel.”
The petition also demands that the state recognize the relatives of the approximately 5,000 Ethiopian Jews who died on their way to the camps, in the camps themselves, or trying to flee the camps after the Israeli government’s leaks scuttled the rescue as “persons imprisoned for their Zionism, martyrs or those who perished on their way to Israel” – which would entitle them to state support.
It took more than 20 years for the state to hold a formal memorial ceremony for those Ethiopian Jews who perished during their escape to Israel, and in 2007 it belatedly unveiled a monument on Mount Herzel in their memory.
Ethiopian Jews walked for days, fleeing famine and persecution, until they reached UN refugee camps in southern Sudan. The camps, already overfilled with Ethiopians and other refugees fleeing famine and war, were hellholes. One of the largest, Um Raquba, was described by observers as hell on earth. Some of the refugees were openly antisemitic and some were affiliated with various Islamic and PLO factions.
The Jews had been told by Mossad agents sent to their Ethiopian villages that the messiah awaited them in those Sudanese refugee camps. Get there however you can, they were told, and he will fly you on the wings of eagles to safety in Israel.
But what the Ethiopian Jews found in those camps was disease, famine, and often hatred.
As Jewish babies began to succumb to dysentery and disease they were often buried in the mud huts the Jewish (and all other) refugees lived in. Staging a Jewish funeral in public was considered to be too dangerous. Many mothers slept for months on the fresh-packed earth of their children’s graves.
All the while, the Government of Israel dragged its feet and delayed rescue. Some Ethiopian jews who served as Mossad agents complained bitterly of the delays and the deaths and torture the delays caused, but the government did not step up its efforts.
It was only after American Jews led by the American Association for Ethiopian Jews and, to a lesser extent, by the North American Jewish Students Network (the North American arm of the World Union of Jewish Students) convinced the American government to act that a rescue took shape and was launched under the auspices of the US and Israel.
But from the beginning, factions in the Israeli government worked to scuttle the rescue.
Yehuda Dominitz, a senior official with the Nation Religious party and the editor of a West Bank settler publication, published news of the airlift despite the supposed government news blackout.
Then senior lay leaders affiliated with various North American Jewish Federations tried to leak the airlift to the news media, first to the New York Times and the Boston Globe.
Both papers, realizing that publicizing an ongoing airlift of this nature would almost certainly kill it, informed senior US Department of State officials about the leaks. Those officials asked both papers to hold the story until after the airlift was complete. Both agreed to do so.
The Jewish Federations’ leaders then leaked the story to the Washington Jewish Week, which published the story despite being warned that publication could end the airlift and almost certainly would kill Ethiopian Jews.
Throughout the time these leaks took place, the US Government was forced to up the amount of money it was paying Sudan and its leader, Jaafar Nimeiry, to allow the rescue to take place. It also had to calm Nimeiry, who became increasingly agitated as the leaks increased.
Several weeks after the Washington Jewish Week published its story on the ongoing airlift, the World Zionist Organization’s leadership issued a press release acknowledging the rescue was taking place. Shortly after, the co-leader of Israel’s government, Shimon Peres spoke at a press conference. He acknowledged the airlift was, in fact, taking place but urged the press and others to keep the information low key.
Shimon Peres’ press conference was televised worldwide with the knowledge and permission of the State of Israel.
The WZO’s action followed by Peres’ press conference killed the airlift. Nimeiry refused a US offer of even more money, citing among other things the danger he and his government were now in for being seen as cooperating with Zionists. He agreed to allow planes that were already on their way to Sudan to land and take as many Ethiopian Jews out as they could hold. But no more planes would be allowed to land after that.
It was the first Friday in January 1985. The last plane left Sudan later that weekend.
Thousands of stranded Ethiopian Jews tried to walk back to Ethiopia in hopes that they could rebuild their lives there. Already weakened and ill, thousands died on the way. More died in the refugee camps.
While those Jews suffered and died, Israel and the North American Jewish Federations trumpeted the “Israeli” rescue of Ethiopian Jews, the first time in history, they claimed, that Blacks had been taken out of persecution in Africa to freedom elsewhere.
In March, the US arranged Operation Joshua, which rescued the remaining Jews in the refugee camps.
“Those responsible have not internalized their responsibility for the failures that led to a tragedy for the Ethiopian Jewish community attempting to make it’s dream come true,” the petition to the High Court reportedly notes.
“The tragedy is seared into the hearts of tens of thousands relatives and survivors in both Israel and Ethiopia,” the petition says.
It also reportedly notes that all attempts to achieve state recognition for the survivors have been unsuccessful.