Peres 311 reuters.
(photo credit: Reuters)
President Shimon Peres left for Larnaca in Cyprus on Wednesday night soon after
hosting a large gathering in celebration of Operation Solomon’s 20th
The Ethiopian community, along with past and present
government ministers, MKs, members of the Mossad, the American Jewish Joint
Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency, the IDF and others who were involved
in the operation were present.
Operation Solomon was an historic,
unprecedented mission in which 14,325 Beta Israel Ethiopian Jews were airlifted
in a covert 36-hour operation involving 34 Israeli aircraft. In light of the
political instability in Ethiopia at the time, the Israeli government aided by
various Jewish organizations in the Diaspora acted quickly to bring a large
sector of the Jewish community to safety.
The homecoming of the Beta
Israel community was one of the most moving and miraculous events in the history
of the Jews, said Peres. It was an operation of breathtaking drama and
proportions “and as is common with us, on the verge of the
He greatly regretted that 4,000 Ethiopian Jews, since the
early 1970s, who had tried to reach the Promised Land had died en route. Their
sacrifice would remain in the national consciousness, he said.
130,000 Ethiopian Jews, of which 44,000 were children, endured the worst
hardships of immigrant absorption, said Peres, urging that everything possible
be done to amend what they had suffered.
First and foremost, he said, it
was essential to ensure that members of the Ethiopian community would not be
victims of discriminatory practices. Discrimination he declared was ugly and
shameful and contrary to the spirit of Israel and the traditions of Judaism. It
was the right of the Ethiopian community to fully integrate into all sectors of
society, he said, and its leaders deserve the respect generally accorded to
The Ethiopian community’s contribution to Israel’s
development is becoming increasingly evident said Peres, who said that the
highest ratio of army recruits came from the Ethiopian community with 90 percent
of 18-year-old males and 69% of females serving in the IDF or in civilian
national service units. Of these, 400 had become high-ranking officers, with the
highest rank being that of lieutenant-colonel.
More than 4,000, after
completing national service, have earned university degrees in a wide range of
Barely an hour after farewelling the Ethiopians, Peres was in
the air on his way to Cyprus. He is making a reciprocal state visit following
that of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias who was in Israel in
When Christofias visited Israel, he and Peres held extensive talks
on the reunification of Cyprus, and there is a strong likelihood that the
subject will figure prominently in their next round of talks. They also spoke of
increased cooperation in the field of energy, and this subject will definitely
be aired in greater detail when the two presidents meet.
In a recent
report for the NGO 21C, Karin Kloosterman quotes Shani Cooper Zabida, deputy
head of mission at the Israel Embassy in Nicosia, as saying that Cyprus buys
almost 90% of its refined oil from Israel, and Israeli companies have built
three desalination plants in Cyprus.
Kloosterman also quotes Christakis
P. Papavassilou, president of the Cyprus-Israel Business Association who says
that in light of faltering ties with Turkey, gas-line blow-ups in Egypt and
local offshore gas finds, it would be logical for Israel to turn to its island
There have been discussions about joint natural gas exploration
and the construction of a processing facility in Cyprus.
The subject came
up in April of this year when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited Cyprus,
then was broached again in August during the visit to Israel by Cypriot Foreign
Minister Erato Kozakou Markoulis, and brought into conversation yet again at
meetings between Israel’s Ambassador to Cyprus Michael Harari and Cypriot