Operation Solomon, the rescue of 14,087 Ethiopian Jews and their transport to Israel within a period of 33 hours as a vicious civil war raged all around them, is about as close to a modern-day miracle as this cynical world can countenance. Now, almost complete, is an exodus that reconfirms Israel's mission as a refuge for world Jewry wherever it is threatened.
The Ethiopian Jews trace their origins to the progeny of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who are said to have journeyed to Africa around the time of the building of the First Temple. Others believe they are part of the lost tribe of Dan. Whatever the actual story, an African people have lived for centuries in the northeastern Ethiopian province of Gonder, practicing a form of Judaism based largely on the Bible, not the Talmud and other Jewish writings that emerged much later.
Now some 34,000 Ethiopian Jews are citizens of Israel where, in the words of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, "no one will persecute them anymore." The escape to Israel of the first 20,000 began modestly and in greatest secrecy in November 1984 as tribesmen trekked to Sudan, there to be flown to the promised land. But when news of what was then called Operation Moses leaked out, Ethiopia and Sudan stopped the flow at Arab insistence. There is little doubt that payoffs and even the transfer of arms were involved. As the government of Ethiopia started heading for what seems its inevitable defeat, President Mengistu Haile Mariam recognized Israel and let out small numbers to improve his terrible image.