Euphoria over Airlift Tempered by Concern for Those Left Behind

The euphoria Israel is experiencing over the successful airlift of more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel has been tempered by the realization that as many as 2,000 Jews were left behind.

But they have not been forgotten.

It is believed that between 1,500 and 2,000 Jews living in remote areas of Ethiopia never reached the capital of Addis Ababa, where the Jews had congregated and were cared for by Israeli officials and Jewish relief workers from abroad until they could leave the country.

The Israeli ambassador, Asher Naim, and his two aides, who remain in Addis Ababa, reported that all is well with the Jews left behind, who have been assured of their personal safety by the Ethiopian rebels now storming the capital.

Officials of the Jewish Agency for Israel said that every effort will be made to extricate them and bring them to Israel.

But there is still the dilemma of an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 Ethiopian Jews who had converted to Christianity and were turned away at the gates of the Israeli Embassy in Addis Ababa.

The Israeli rabbinical establishment, which in the past has offended Ethiopian Jews by claiming they must undergo ritual conversion to Judaism, had done an about-face and given the green light to include the converts in Operation Solomon. But Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir decided against it.

Shamir explained Sunday, “There was no way to add them on to the list of immigrants without jeopardizing the entire operation.”

The converts, whose reasons for conversion varied, had joined the trek to the capital made over a year ago by Jews from Gondar province in the northwest. Although Jewish Agency officials in Addis Ababa did not give the converts immigrant cards, they provided them with medical aid and food packages.

The converts lived together with the Jews in the same poor conditions in the slums of Addis Ababa, hoping that they, too, could make aliyah.

CONVERTS CRYING ON THE RUNWAY

A moving report was filed Monday by Tamar Golan, Ma’ariv’s correspondent in the Ethiopian capital, which was ringed by rebel forces intent on taking the capital after some 30 years of civil war in that country.

She described how embassy officials had to turn back the thousands of converts, known as Faras Mora, who then threatened to break into the embassy compound. Embassy officials had no choice but to ask police to disperse the crowd.

In Israel, Maj. Gen. Amnon Shahak, Israel Defense Force deputy chief of staff, who commanded Operation Solomon, recounted that just prior to takeoff from Addis Ababa, he spotted five converts lying on the runway, crying that they should be permitted to board the planes.

Shahak, who got off his plane at the pitiful sight, said, “I did not want the operation to end with such a tragic scene, and I gave orders to let them board the plane.”

On Monday, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu said even though converts are no longer legally Jews, they should be brought to Israel.

Shamir has now instructed Uri Lubrani, who coordinated the diplomatic aspects of the operation, to review the converts’ case.

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