Operation Solomon Rescues Ethiopian Jews Ethiopian Jews entering Israel during Operation Solomon. Photo: North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry

May 25, 1991

Operation Solomon flies more than 14,000 Ethipoian Jews to Israel in 36 hours using 34 airplanes, including a Boeing 747 that sets a record with 1,087 passengers. The operation brings almost twice as many Ethiopians to Israel as arrived through Operations Moses and Joshua in 1984 and 1985.

The situation for Ethiopia’s ancient Jewish community, the Beta Israel, became steadily worse beginning in 1974 because of civil war, famine, political corruption and religious persecution. Judaism was outlawed, and thousands of Beta Israel members were killed. About 8,000 Jews legally emigrated from Ethiopia and settled in Israel over a decade, but the Ethiopian government then banned Jewish emigration. Thousands of the Beta Israel, hoping to walk all the way to Israel, made a treacherous journey to Sudan, where they lived in refugee camps. Through Operation Moses, Israel brought about 7,000 of the Beta Israel to the Jewish state in six weeks at the end of 1984. After Sudan stopped cooperating in January 1985, the United States launched Operation Joshua to move about 500 Jews stranded in Sudan to Israel.

For the Jews who remained in Ethiopia, the violence and persecution only worsened. Israel reached an agreement with Ethiopia to allow Jewish emigration in 1990, but rebels overthrew Mengistu Haile Mariam’s dictatorship in 1991 and again raised the danger for the Beta Israel. Operation Solomon is Israel’s response, creating a negotiated 48-hour window to evacuate Ethiopian Jews. The future of Ethiopia’s remaining Jews is a persistent issue for Israel and its Ethiopian community for the next three decades.