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Immigration to Israel: Operation Magic Carpet - Airlift of Yemenite Jews


In May 1949, when the Imam of Yemen agreed to let 45,000 of the 46,000 Jews in his country leave, Israeli transport planes flew them "home" in Operation Magic Carpet. The Yemenite Jews, mostly children, were brought to Israel on some 380 flights. This was one of the most wonderful and complex immigration operations the state has ever known. British and American planes airlifted the Jews from Aden, the capital of Yemen, when they reached the city from all over Yemen after extremely dangerous and risky journeys. The operation was secret and was released to the media only several months after its completion.

The year 1949 saw massive waves of immigration to Israel. Some 250,000 Jews who arrived that year alone were placed in military barracks and tent camps, and were later moved to ma'abarot [transit camps]. The state nearly collapsed under the burden. Calculations made that year showed that the state needed some $3,000 for the absorption of each immigrant, which meant that the state required about $700,000 for the whole campaign; the entire state budget was less than that. Yet, despite everything, the young state was more than willing to do all that was necessary to absorb the immigrants, believing that this was the reason for its establishment in the first place.

Sources: Nissim Mishal, Those Were The Years...Israel's 50th, p. 31; Israeli Foreign Ministry. Photo from the National Photo Collection.