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The Airlift Story

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While Israel was in uproar over the importunate “leaks” by its own officials that forced disclosure of the airlift rescue of Ethiopian Jews, sources here described today how Trans European Airways (TEA), the Belgian charter company engaged for the task, managed to operate the airlift in absolute secrecy since it began last November.

TEA made 40 flights in that period, bringing some 10,000 Ethiopian Jewish refugees from Khartoum, Sudan to Tel Aviv with a brief stopover at Brussels’ Zaventem International Airport. The last flight, before TEA withdrew from the operation yesterday, left Brussels at midnight Saturday.

The stopover at Brussels was required because Sudan, an Arab League member-state having no relations whatever with Israel, would not allow direct flights from Khartoum to Tel Aviv. This complicated the maintenance of secrecy. But it was never breached.


This was attributed to the model of organization and discipline by the 200 persons mobilized at Brussels airport for various tasks during the two-hour stopover. TEA’s Boeing 707s invariably landed at midnight, for refueling and other services. The Belgian authorities listed them as charter flights in transit and they arrived and departed unnoticed. The passengers stayed on the plane during the stopover.

TEA was conducting not only an airlift but an ambulance service. A large number of Ethiopian refugees was suffering from starvation and a variety of tropical diseases. They were given medical care during the flight and the stopover, which, together, totaled 12 hours from Khartoum to Tel Aviv.

The sources here disclosed that several doctors, nurses and volunteers participated in the airlift. The refugees were provided with special diets adapted to their physical condition.

TEA confirmed today that it has suspended the operation. It refused to say why. But the premature disclosure of the airlift in Israel appeared to have disturbed the company’s top management.

The charter company, owned by George Gutelman, a Belgian Jew, was originally selected as the airlift carrier because of its good relations with the Sudanese authorities. Each year TEA charter planes carry thousands of Moslems from Khartoum on their annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

It was learned today that the Belgian government had been informed of TEA’s assignment which the Israelis dubbed “Operation Moshe.”


Meanwhile, a spokesman for the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) denied here any financial participation by that agency in the rescue operation.

The spokesman said “The UNICEF has granted $5 million for Ethiopia since 1983 and the ‘Falasha’ children were among the beneficiaries of the aid.” He added that “aid to the airlift is not compatible with the UNICEF policy which consists of helping children to grow in their natural environment.”

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