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Operation Solomon: The Daring Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews [Hardcover]

Stephen Spector
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

26 May 2005
"Operation Solomon" was one of the most remarkable rescue efforts in modern history, in which more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel in little more than a day. Now, in this riveting volume, Stephen Spector offers the definitive account of this incredible story, based on over 200 interviews and exclusive access to confidential documents.
Written with the pace and immediacy of a novel, here is the dramatic story of the rescue of the dark-skinned Jews of Ethiopia. Spector recounts how 20,000 Jews were willingly lured from their ancestral villages to Addis Ababa, expecting to be taken quickly from there to the Holy Land. Instead, they became pawns in a struggle between the Israeli government and Ethiopia's repressive dictator, who tried to coerce Israel into selling him weapons he needed in a losing war against rebel armies. In the resulting stalemate, the Jewish community was forced to live for nearly a year in squalid hovels, vulnerable to the dangers of the city, including crime and HIV. Worse yet, the imminent collapse of Addis Ababa, with the rebels closing in on the capital, raised the threat of bloody street fighting or even a genocidal attack on the Jews, a small minority in a nation that is primarily Christian and Muslim. Spector describes the tense negotiations among Israelis, Ethiopians, and Americans, which became increasingly urgent as time ran low and the danger mounted. And he highlights the secret deals and sudden setbacks that nearly aborted the mission at the eleventh hour, even as Israeli jets sat on the runway in Ethiopia, waiting to take the Jews to the land for which they had yearned for generations.
Recounting the full story for the first time, Operation Solomon is a stirring account of a heroic rescue achieved in the face of daunting odds.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (26 May 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195177827
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195177824
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.5 x 2.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,360,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"An impressive exercise in forensic documentary, with skeletons pulled out of unknown closets, X-rayed, dusted, and added to our collective knowledge.... The pace of the narrative is that of a fast-moving thriller.... After launching an eight-year, tri-continental archival odyssey, meticulously reconfirmed in 200 interviews, Spector leaves no question unasked, and almost none unanswered."—Amir Shaviv,

"Stephen Spector tells the riveting story behind the story of how the United States joined with Israel in the humanitarian effort that resulted in Operation Solomon. Against the dramatic backdrop of the transition from despotism to democracy in Ethiopia, the Falashas were willing to risk everything in order to achieve their dream of living in Israel. Their story is an inspiration and a testament to the power of diplomacy, and of faith." —Brent Scowcroft, former U.S. National Security Advisor

"Finally the saga of Operation Solomon, the remarkable rescue of 14,000 Falashas, the Black Jews of Ethiopia, has been meticulously researched and accurately told. Stephen Spector tells the story in a manner so riveting that readers will find this book hard, indeed almost impossible to put down. It's a wonderful story and this book is a service to the history of the event." —Rudy Boschwitz, former U.S. Senator, Minnesota

"In his extensively researched and engagingly written book, Stephen Spector uncovers the story of the airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel—a story of intrigue, hardship, and amazing courage. An invaluable contribution to the study of modern Jewish history, Israel, and the Middle East." —Michael Oren, author of

"

is the best and most insightful account of the evacuation of the Beta Israel from war-torn Ethiopia to 'the promised land.' With access to the confidential files of the organizations and personalities who made it happen, Spector guides the reader through a saga replete with intrigue, daring, and ultimate joy. The author does not resolve all the conflicting claims or assertions in this complex history, but lays out the facts with scrupulous scholarship, allowing the reader to draw his own conclusions.

About the Author

, obviously, was a labor of love for Spector and it resonates in his artful and sensitive prose." —Robert Houdek, Chief of Mission, American Embassy in Ethiopia, 1988-1991

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing the Beta Israel home 11 Aug 2005
By Pieter Uys HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This remarkable book tells the history of the rescue and homecoming of the Jews of Ethiopia. In Ethiopia they were known as "Falasha" which means Landless, an Exile or a Wanderer. They called themselves Beta Israel (House of Israel) and in the 1980s the community decided to make Aliyah to Israel. The highlight of this narrative is the actual Operation Solomon, when more than 14 000 of the Beta Israel were airlifted to Israel in May 1991.
Based on about 200 interviews with people in Ethiopia, Israel, the UK and the USA plus many articles and documents, the book offers a tale of chilling suspense, great sacrifice and awesome courage and joy. The constant political intrigue leading up to the airlift made it a risky enterprise from various angles.
Ethiopia was in a state of turmoil as the liberation movements were winning the civil war against dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Eventually Addis Abeba was surrounded. For more than a year, the Beta Israel stayed in terrible conditions in the city as the Ethiopian tyrant tried to use them to get weapons from Israel to fight his enemies.
Spector describes how, at the height of the tension as the buses reached the airport from the Israeli embassy compound, the people calmly and patiently waited their turn. This was one of the main reasons the operation succeeded. From Friday 24th May to Saturday 25th May, 34 hours and 4 minutes after the first plane left Ben Gurion Airport, the mission was accomplished: 14 310 Beta Israel were safe in their true homeland. Forty-one military and El Al aircraft took part.
One of the organizers is quoted as saying that it was a very disorganized miracle. But a miracle it was, as once again Israel plucked Jews out of danger.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History -- Written as an exciting mystery 16 May 2005
By M. C. Commerford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Stephen Spector has written a riveting, meticulously researched, suspenseful history of Operation Solomon. The previously untold stories of this event involve a missing $35 million, hostages and heroism. This book appeals to a broad readership, with Bible prophecy fulfillment, return to the Promised Land, perilous journeys, political machinations, personal sacrifice and much more. An uplifting story of triumph over adversity.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful and inspirational account of some recent history 19 Aug 2005
By Jill Malter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Israel has been making good on its task of being a refuge for Jews. In the decade prior to 1948, hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of Jewish lives would have been saved had Israel existed. They would have moved to Israel much as Jews actually did in 1948 and the next few years. In those days, Jews reached Israel from Europe, Yemen and elsewhere. But not too many showed up from Ethiopia. And this book begins by explaining why.

One complication is that the Ethiopian Jews are not genetically related to the Ashkenazic (German) or Sephardic (Spanish) Jews. Does that mean that they are not really Jews? Well, that's up to Israel and some of its rabbis and other leaders to decide. They certainly look like Jews to me, but I'm a Pagan, and my opinion isn't relevant. On the other hand, they also look like Jews to some Israelis rabbis whose opinion is relevant. And it seems that there may well be a third branch of Jews, in addition to the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim.

When Golda Meir was the Prime Minister of Israel, she showed little interest in bringing the Ethiopians to Israel, in part because she feared that it would endanger Israeli relations with Ethiopia and other African nations. But Menachim Begin felt that Israel's claim to be a Zionist state would be sabotaged unless it could bring Ethiopian Jews into the country. As for the Ethiopian Jews, most of them not only wanted to immigrate to Israel but were willing to risk their lives to do so.

Unfortunately, after the Yom Kippur War, most African nations, including Ethiopia, broke diplomatic relations with Israel.

That's where this book starts, and it continues by describing the rescue of Ethiopian Jews, over 94,000 of whom now live in Israel. The most exciting part is about the airlift of over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in May, 1991 (Operation Solomon). It happened quickly. The first plane left Addis Ababa at 1:30 PM on May 24, and the final one, less than a day later, at 11:35 AM on May 25, with the planes crossing the Red Sea, of course.

I found the book very exciting, as it described the wars and revolutions that confronted everyone in the region, as well as the various bribes that people had to pay to try to free the Ethiopian Jews. And I feel it has a moral: the oppressed can indeed be liberated, and people will show courage and strength to help liberate themselves and to liberate others.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great book about a great event in Jewish history 28 Sep 2005
By Werner Cohn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Over 14,000 black Ethiopian Jews were airlifted from Addis Ababa to Israel within a day and a half in 1991. It is an outstanding event in Jewish history, an outstanding achievement for Israel and its helpers among the Jews of the world.

This book tells the story in exciting detail. The author, a professor of English at SUNY Stonybrook, guides us through the labyrinthian detail of infighting, political machination, financial hanky-panky, but eventual triumph. His tone throughout is admirably objective. He tells us about the arguments for and against the project. He leaves it to the reader to provide a final judgement, but there will be few who can withhold admiration for the achievements of those most closely associated with this airlift.

Among these latter, notably, is a group of American Jews who stood outside the Jewish establishment and, often acting fanatically, seem to have made all the difference. One of these, Susan Pollack, deserves more than a footnote when the history of modern Judaism is written.

The author has interviewed hundreds, both in Israel and the United States, and he seems to have read everything that has any bearing on the subject. One of the best features of the book is the exhaustive bibliography and suggestions for further reading, which are sprinkled throughout the book.

But since the author is not an expert on either Ethiopia or Ethiopian Jews, there are some notable weaknesses in the book. To understand more about the whole project of Ethiopian immigration to Israel, we need to know more about the culture and religion of the Beta Israel, the Ethiopian Jews. This author is not much help. He does tell us, for example, that a religious leader among the Beta Israel is called a "ques," a "Jewish priest." But how many are there of these ? How does one become a ques ? What education is involved ? Are there any rivalries among the "quessotch" ?

The author also tells us that the language of the Beta Israel is Amharic. But we know from other sources that this is true of only 80% of the Ethiopian Jews of Israel, the rest speaking Tigrinya, the official language of Eritrea. This fact is never mentioned in the book.

The author is also fairly innocent of knowledge about Ethiopian ethnic groups. He tells us (p. 136), on the authority of gossip by an American embassy official, that "Oromo kids" created havoc on the streets of Addis Ababa at a certain point. Anyone more sophisticated about inter-ethnic conflict in Ethiopia would be wary about making such a reckless, undocumented charge.

In the end, the book is what it is: a remarkably detailed, documented account of one of the greatest events in Jewish history. And it is also a scholarly guide to some of the literature of the historic and ethnographic context. It would be churlish to ask for more.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating and Well-Documented History 5 Aug 2006
By Jazz It Up Baby - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It took the government of Israel nearly three decades to take significant steps to bring the Jews of Ethiopia to Israel, as Mitchell G. Bard of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise wrote, but when it did finally make a commitment to do so in the late 1970s, it carried out daring and dramatic operations. The story of Operation Solomon--how Israel evacuated more than 14,000 Jews in less than thirty-six hours--is the subject of Spector's fascinating and well-documented history.

Following the first large-scale rescue in 1984, Israel learned that the Ethiopian Jewish population was far larger than previously thought. Their predicament became increasingly dire as Ethiopia dissolved into civil war. By 1990-91, thousands of Jews were identified by American activists who provided them humanitarian assistance and called on Israel to allow them all to come to Israel.

The Ethiopian government, however, saw its Jews as bargaining chips and did not want to let them go without extracting a price from Israel. Initially, it sought weapons but ultimately settled for a large payment of cash.

The U.S. government played a key role. Diplomats, Senator Rudy Boschwitz, and President George H.W. Bush all weighed in to secure Ethiopian permission to allow the Jews to leave. Spector does not give Bush the credit he deserves, presenting him as merely signing off on the requests of others rather than himself strongly supporting the rescue. This is an example of the one weakness of the book, which is that it is missing the historical context of the story, in this case, Bush's direct involvement, when vice president, in negotiations with Sudan for the earlier rescue of the Ethiopian Jews.

Spector has interviewed many of the key players and done a good job of sorting out the relative influence of Israeli, Ethiopian, and American officials, activists, and Jewish organizational leaders. It is a marvelous story, and there is enough credit to go around, but Spector also reveals the underside, especially some of the petty jealousies, particularly among the Israelis, that hindered the rescue.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing the Beta Israel home 11 Aug 2005
By Pieter Uys - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This remarkable book tells the history of the rescue and homecoming of the Jews of Ethiopia. In Ethiopia they were known as "Falasha" which means Landless, an Exile or a Wanderer. They called themselves Beta Israel (House of Israel) and in the 1980s the community decided to make Aliyah to Israel. The highlight of this narrative is the actual Operation Solomon, when more than 14 000 of the Beta Israel were airlifted to Israel in May 1991.

Based on about 200 interviews with people in Ethiopia, Israel, the UK and the USA plus many articles and documents, the book offers a tale of chilling suspense, great sacrifice and awesome courage and joy. The constant political intrigue leading up to the airlift made it a risky enterprise from various angles.

Ethiopia was in a state of turmoil as the liberation movements were winning the civil war against dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Eventually Addis Abeba was surrounded. For more than a year, the Beta Israel stayed in terrible conditions in the city as the Ethiopian tyrant tried to use them to get weapons from Israel to fight his enemies.

Spector describes how, at the height of the tension as the buses reached the airport from the Israeli embassy compound, the people calmly and patiently waited their turn. This was one of the main reasons the operation succeeded. From Friday 24th May to Saturday 25th May, 34 hours and 4 minutes after the first plane left Ben Gurion Airport, the mission was accomplished: 14 310 Beta Israel were safe in their true homeland. Forty-one military and El Al aircraft took part.

One of the organizers is quoted as saying that it was a very disorganized miracle. But a miracle it was, as once again Israel plucked Jews out of danger. The moving reception of the Beta Israel at Ben Gurion airport was filled with wonder and elation, reminiscent of scenes from the Bible. Those who were still left behind were permitted to go from mid September of that year and in 1992, the 2000 Jews of Quara were also relocated to Israel.

There are three appendices: 1. Annual and Monthly Emigration from Addis Abeba to Israel, 1977 - 2003; 2. The number of people brought to Israel in operation Solomon; 3. A conversation with Kassa Kabede, a former Ethiopian official involved in the operation. The book includes Notes and an extensive bibliography of books, scholarly articles, press articles, public and unpublished documents, private memoirs, reports, correspondence and notes, plus oral history interviews. The 16pp. of plates contain black and white photographs of the action and of some of the people who were involved.

Operation Solomon was a highlight in the history of Israel. After all the politics, intrigue, secret deals and obstacles, the Jews of Ethiopia were delivered. The book reads like a thriller and has one on edge until the last plane had landed at Ben Gurion. Divine Providence must have played a part for things to have turned out so well. I highly recommend this suspenseful and uplifting book that portrays living history in such a compelling manner.
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