NEW YORK (Mar. 27)
Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Calif.) said he believes that all Ethiopian Jews previously stranded in the Sudan when Israel was forced to halt its rescue operation last January are now out of that country following last week’s secret airlift of Ethiopian Jews, conducted by the United States.
In a telephone interview from Washington, Cranston also disclosed details of his efforts last month which led to all 100 members of the Senate signing a letter to President Reagan urging that the Administration seek permission from the Sudanese President, Gaafer al-Nimeiry, “for the immediate resumption of the airlift.”
The letter, dated February 21, noted Nimeiry’s earlier comments in a New York Times interview in which he stated that the “Ethiopian Jews and all other refugees now living in the Sudanese camps were free to leave the country provided they did not go directly to Israel.”
According to Cranston, the Administration’s response to the letter was very positive. He received a telephone call from Reagan saying he shared the concern of the Senators on the deteriorating situation in the refugee camps, and later a telephone call from Vice President George Bush indicating his concern for the Ethiopian Jews.
Cranston said he was particularly seeking to draw the attention of Bush to the issue since Bush was scheduled to visit the Sudan in early March. “I figured that this was the time for a breakthrough,” Cranston told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
BUSH LAID THE GROUNDWORK
It has been reported in several leading newspapers that Bush successfully laid the groundwork for last week’s airlift when he met with Nimeiry in Khartoum on March 6. The rescue mission is reported to have been conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency, along with the aid of the State Department and the U.S. Air Force.
Several hundred Jewish refugees were airlifted in a precise, three-hour operation that began in the early morning last Friday on an airstrip near the town of Gedaref. The Los Angeles Times correspondent, Charles Powers, who first reported the airlift, wrote that” a quiet but diligent search was made of all the refugee camps in eastern Sudan, where the Ethiopian Jews … were likely to be found.”
Powers reported this week that five Ethiopian Jews were located in a camp called Um Rakoba about 40 miles inside the Sudanese border, “a refugee camp where almost 1,200 Jews died last summer after they had trekked out of their homeland in Gondar Province in Ethiopia, fleeing famine.”
Powers reported that the five Ethiopian Jews were moved to the Tawawa refugee camp outside Gedaref where they were later moved with other Ethiopian Jews to the airstrip for the airlift. It is reported that the Ethiopian Jews were flown to Israel in the C-130 Hercules transport planes. The letter from the Senate noted that premature disclosure of the Israeli sponsored airlift forced a halt in the operation. But it said that it had left a large number of Ethiopian Jews stranded in Sudan.
“Tragically the survival of these people is in jeopardy and they are at special risk, “the letter said. “Afraid of being identified as Jews in a Moslem country, these refugees in particular have been afraid to seek food or medical aid from international relief agencies. This explains the devastatingly high mortality rate among Ethiopian Jews. Over 2,000 have died in recent months and more are dying daily ….”
SWIFT, UNIFIED SUPPORT CITED
Cranston described as “unprecedented” the quick and swift support his colleagues exhibited when asked about signing the letter to the President. He added that he viewed it as “quite remarkable” that all members of the Senate had knowledge of the letter and that it was kept a secret until this week.
He said publicity about the letter or the Administration’s undertaking for a rescue mission could have hindered any efforts to aid Ethiopian Jews in the Sudan. He said Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R. NY) also worked behind the scenes to gain support of the Senate.
Cranston said “not a single one hesitated in terms of signing” the letter, adding that there was a genuine eagerness on behalf of the Senate to join in the effort. “This shows the Senate can keep a secret,” Cranston said.
Cranston said that he had been in contact with officials of the American Association for Ethiopian Jewry that provided him with updates and information regarding the situation of the Ethiopian Jews.