Remembering the 4,000 who died in the Sudanese desert
The Israeli-Ethiopian community held its annual memorial day ceremony to commemorate the 4,000 Ethiopian Jews who died on their way to Israel during Operation Moses on Sunday. The majority of the deaths came as a result of starvation and disease while waiting in refugee camps to be airlifted.
Operation Moses was an operation carried out by the Israeli Mossad and the American CIA whereby 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were smuggled out of Sudanese refugee camps to Israel via Brussels. The operation began on November 21, 1984 and ended on January 5, 1985 as a result of the operation's discovery by Sudanese authorities.
The ceremony occurs every year on Jerusalem Day and takes place on Mt. Herzl. Thousands of members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community took part in the ceremony, which included families who lost their relatives in the the deserts of Sudan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and the new Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beitenu).
Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Rivlin spoke at the event, and discussed the need to end discrimination and racism towards the community, while admitting to and apologizing for past mistakes during the Israeli-Ethiopians' absorption process into the state, the effects of which are felt in the community today.
Netanyahu said in his speech that "I place the utmost importance on the elimination and eradication of racism and discrimination. It is an outrageous phenomenon in our country, something which is intolerable, and something which we must come out against with all of our power. (Racism and discrimination) have no place in Israeli society."
"You are flesh and blood part of our nation, and equal amongst equals," the prime minister continued. "We salute the thousands of victims who fell during their trek from Ethiopia to Israel. This year, we added the names of the fallen to the memorial statue in cooperation with the World Zionist Organization. This is just a small thing which we can do to commemorate the huge number of victims. We will cherish their memories for all eternity, yet we are consoled by the fact that we have fulfilled their dreams of building up Zion and Jerusalem."
President Rivlin also spoke at the ceremony, saying "Aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel) requires not only the immigrants but also the country to understand and be aware of the journey that these immigrants make to get to it. Despite the good intentions of the immigration authorities, they didn't understand the challenges that were at our doorstep."
"Yet the challenges are clear," he continued, "Israeli society must continue to fix its failures and make the country even more attractive to immigrants making aliyah. Even a model society – like Israeli society – is bought with blood, sweat, and tears. With hard work and constant reform. We must enact great efforts to spread the unique story of the Ethiopian Aliyah in order to ensure that those who made it, those who fell, and those who were unjustly incarcerated and held hostage (by the Ethiopian and Sudanese regimes) remain an inseparable part of the story of Israel."