Operation Moses is Completed

On This Day, 1985

On this day in 1985, Operation Moses was completed. This operation marked the culmination of 7 weeks of undercover missions, during which approximately 8,000 Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) were brought to Israel from Sudan and northern Ethiopia. Operation Moses is noted as the first Aliyah of Beta Israel, followed by Operation Joshua in March 1985, Solomon in 1991, and various others over the past 10 years. These operations have brought thousands more home to Israel, including one at the end of 2020 (Operation Rock), led by MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopian-born woman to hold a Knesset seat and serve as Minister of Aliyah and Absorption in the most recent government.

On This Day in Jewish History: January 5th, 1985


#onthisday, 1985, Operation Moses is completed. This operation was the culmination of 7 weeks of undercover missions to bring about 8,000 Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) home to Israel – the first of its kind.

Sources: mfa.gov.il, Wikipedia

The Beta Israel community has been living in Ethiopia since as early as the 1st century (following the destruction of the 2nd Temple), with some accounts tracing their history back to the time of the Babylonian Exile in 586 BCE, and others to the reign of King Solomon. Despite many converting to Christianity, Islam, or other local religions by force or choice, most maintained Jewish traditions, faith, and Biblical holidays.

Referred to by the locals with the derogatory term “Falashas” (a people without land/exiles), they never forgot their origins and their destination. Central to the Beta Israel was the yearning for the ultimate return to Zion/Jerusalem, a desire highlighted and elevated by their unique holiday, Sigd.

By the early 1980s, with increasing instability and famine in their country, some Ethiopian Jews began making the trek from the Gondar region in Ethiopia, through Sudan, to Israel on foot. Most did not survive the journey to Sudan due to starvation, border checks, and dehydration, resulting in their settling in Sudanese refugee camps. Over 4,000 Beta Israel died during the journey and in the camps due to malnutrition and disease.

The need to provide a passage for these Jews became evident to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Operation Moses was initiated. From these Sudanese refugee camps, the IDF, Mossad, CIA, US Embassy, and some within the Sudanese government itself secretly began airlifting the Beta Israel to Israel on November 21, 1984. On this day in 1985, the last of the 30 flights bringing the first group of Ethiopian Jews home landed in Israel.

In 2021, the Beta Israel community in Israel had grown exponentially, numbering over 140,000 citizens.

Operation Moses: The Journey of Ethiopian Jews to Israel

Pnina Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopian-born woman to hold a Knesset seat, was 3 years old when she, along with her five brothers and father, was brought to Israel as part of Operation Moses. Her mother joined them some years later. Tamano-Shata grew up in Petach Tikvah, studied law at Ono Academic College, and worked as a reporter at Channel 1 for 5 years. In 2013, she joined the Yesh Atid Party and began her political career. By 2019, she had joined the Blue and White party and, following the March 2020 elections, was elected and appointed as Minister of Aliyah and Absorption.

In December of 2020, approximately 500 Ethiopian Jews landed in Israel as part of Operation Rock, which aims to bring 2,000 Beta Israel immigrants to Israel. MK Tamano-Shata has been widely credited with being responsible for this latest effort to bring more Beta Israel to their homeland.