Operation Moses Begins to Bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel Prime Minister Shamir greeting Ethiopian immigrants upon their arrival in Israel. Photo: Jewish Journal

November 21, 1984

Israel launches Operation Moses, the first of several covert missions to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The collaboration among the Mossad, the CIA and Sudanese State Security uses more than 30 aircraft to carry almost 8,000 people from refugee camps in Sudan to Israel via Brussels.
The Ethiopian Jews, known as the Beta Israel or Falash Mura, have faced prejudice in their country for years. They live in harsh conditions in large communities in the north and northwest of Ethiopia, surrounded by Muslims and Christians. Beta Israel tradition says they are descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Before the airlift, the Ethiopian Jews have to make their way to the Sudanese border, usually by foot, overcoming violence and thievery along the way. They are not allowed to leave Ethiopia, so the operation is secret. Sudan then houses them for months in poor conditions in refugee camps.
Sudan halts the operation Jan. 5, 1985, after Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres confirms media reports about the airlift. U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush then leads planning for the next phase of the covert effort, known as Operation Joshua in the United States and Operation Sheba in Israel. The U.S.-led mission brings the roughly 800 Ethiopian Jews remaining in Sudanese camps to Israel.

Operations Moses and Joshua together airlift about one-third of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In May 1991, Operation Solomon carries 14,000 Ethiopian Jews directly to Israel in military aircraft. Subsequent efforts enable most of the remaining 8,000 members of the Ethiopian Jewish community to make aliyah.