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Statement in the Knesset by Prime Minister Peres on Operation Moses

(January 8, 1985)

During November and December 1984, the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency were flying clandestinely Ethiopian Jews from Sudan to Israel. Some 7,500 Ethiopian Jews, who walked from Ethiopia to Sudan, were airlifted in a secret operation code-named "Moses" It was done with the knowledge and support of the United States, whose vice president, George Bush, played an active role in the negotiations both in Ethiopia and in the Sudan. The operation had to be aborted due to premature leaks in the world press. In the following statement, still couched in elliptical terms, Mr. Peres praised those responsible for the operation and elaborated on its spiritual significance. Some 14,500 Ethiopian Jews would be airlifted from Addis Ababa in May 1991, in an operation code-named "Solomon"

Mr. Speaker, distinguished Knesset,

We, this House and the entire people, face one problem and one central problem alone: How to carry on this stirring and extraordinary rescue operation, and bring it to a successful conclusion.

And despite the difficulties and problems - this is not a vain hope.

For 2,600 years, our brothers and sisters from "the land of the buzzing of wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia" (Isaiah XVIII: 1) have been waiting to attain to this moment, this place. They have waited, and we have waited. They have arrived, and we are the richer for it.

This wonderful tribe gloriously and stubbornly upheld the banner of Jewish belief even from the days of Moses, and certainly after the oppressive Roman rule. Neither mountain nor sword, nor decree nor foreign land could prevail over their Jewish devotion, their human nobility, and their Zionist hope.

And we here have born within us the ongoing, never-ending hope of the unification of our people. Neither economic difficulty nor internal distress, nor geographical distance, nor political obstacle shall halt or postpone the rescue and immigration effort, enwrapped in ancient splendor and enveloped in secret heroism.

We have seen them prostrating themselves and kissing the soil of our land. A light shone in their eyes, while tears welled up in ours.

We have seen a boy carrying his father on his shoulders. We have seen a mother tying her baby to her shoulder. We have stood by enthralled; many in the entire world have been enthralled by this historic vision.

This is a moment of pride for the Jewish people. This is a moment of spiritual uplift for the State of Israel.

The government of Israel has acted and will continue to act, within the range of its ability and even beyond it, in order to complete the mission which is so humane and so Jewish, until the last Ethiopian Jew reaches his homeland.

With all modesty and humility, it may be said that this is one of the most daring and wonderful acts of self-redemption that our country, and not only our country, has ever known.

The Arab nations have enough means and enough lands to rescue thousands of the refugees. With one day's oil revenue - as pointed out by the President of the State they could save hundreds of thousands. But instead, they are furiously attacking a praiseworthy act, and accusing nations which do not bear responsibility for this operation.

This ugly wrath, this grumbling suspicion, are what have necessitated leaving the sublime shrouded in obscurity. The release of material until now, excluding that which we have no control over, was coordinated to permit the continuation of the rescue and absorption process. Although it isn't possible to go into all the relevant considerations, I may note that the withholding, just like the publication, were aimed at serving this very same purpose.

On Thursday morning, I received a message the subject of which has already been publicized in all its detail worldwide. And so, in order to focus attention where it should be and to divert it from delicate aspects, and to put matters in their proper proportions, I approved, after consulting with the relevant factors, the holding of a press briefing, and in accordance with this, the statement by the cabinet secretary as well.

We are called upon to renew the restraint and to impose the required silence, maintaining the necessary national trust, so as to permit the completion of this sacred mission.

Now, more than ever, we are called upon to devote ourselves to a dignified and serious absorption process and to demonstrate an ancient truth in our lives. For even with the difference in origin and location, even with the difference in shade and emphasis, we are one people, tied to an ancient and splendid faith, and no physical force and no external difference can divide us.

All of us, the representatives of the Jewish people and the elected representatives of the State of Israel, rabbis and public servants, government and citizens, cities and development towns, kibbutz and moshav, the center of the country and the development areas - it is incumbent on us all to meet this thrilling challenge of befriending, of absorbing the brother and sisters who have come from afar. We must do this out of utter respect for their customs and way of life, for the uniqueness of their heritage and the depth of their feelings.

For we are one people. There are no black Jews and white Jews: There are Jews. History and faith bind us together forever.

In the 16th century, the Chief Rabbi of Egypt, Rabbi David Ben Shlomo Ben Zimra (the Radbaz) was queried about the Ethiopian Jews' Haldchic status, and he replied that they were real Jews. And Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer of Germany said in 1864: "We all have one Torah and one father in heaven, and all Jews are responsible for one another." And to the Jews of Ethiopia he wrote: "Do not fear, my brothers. You can be sure that the wretched ones who knock on the door of a Jewish home have never been turned away without receiving help."

And Israel's Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook of blessed and holy memory, issued a call to world Jewry in 1921 to save, in his words, 50,000 "holy souls" and to bring their young children to Jewish centers in the Land of Israel.

Zionism is a central religious tenet among the Jews of Ethiopia. This belief has moved them to risk their lives in order to reach the land of their destination.

Throughout the long years of their existence, they discussed this subject but little; they looked toward Israel and awaited a propitious moment. Their great leader, Zecharia Yona, argued heatedly: "We preferred to suffer rather than to endanger the State of Israel." Noble words at an unbearably difficult time. However, it was not danger, but the lack of a propitious moment that prevented their coming. And now the time has come. This is also the right time to discharge a debt of honor to Menachem Begin, whose government invested efforts and resourcefulness to make possible the first, hidden trickles which have blazed a trail. This is also the time to state, on behalf of the government I have the honor of heading, that the tremendous effort already-begun will not be stopped. Immigration involves difficulties; but difficulties will not put an end to immigration, or to immigration's being a major goal in our lives.

Immigration from countries in distress in order to save Jewish lives, and immigration from affluent countries in order to save Jewish (national) existence. The State of Israel is the sole real guarantee for the survival of both Jews and Judaism. And when a propitious moment arrives, let us not be petty, let us not waste it. Let us all mobilize for the main thing which unites us, and not for transient quarrels.

The immigration is continuing, and it will continue.

Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs