(photo credit: AP)
President Shimon Peres, speaking at a memorial service at Mount Herzl on Tuesday, paid tribute to the 44 men, women and children who perished in January, 1961 when sailing to Israel from Morocco on the Egoz.
Peres, who had been deputy defense minister at the time, serving under his mentor David Ben Gurion, said he was one of a small group of people who were privy to the secret of illegal emigration from North Africa.
In general, North African countries did not allow their Jews to leave, certainly not for Israel. Thus, the Zionist underground, with the aid of the Mossad, conducted clandestine operations to enable North African Jews to reach the Promised Land.
The Egoz had made 12 successful voyages, said Peres, and initially there was no concern when it did not arrive at the expected time. He recalled the great sadness felt in the government when learning that the Egoz had sunk off the Moroccan coast.
But there was never any thought of abandoning the mission. Peres and his peers were convinced that it was the last will and testament of those who died at sea that the task of getting Jews out of North Africa and transporting them to Israel should continue.
Peres had closely followed these operations and was full of admiration for the courage and dedication of all those involved. Twenty two of the bodies of the 44 people who had gone to the ocean's bed with the Egoz had been recovered and brought to Jerusalem for burial.
Often, when the saga of the Egoz is recounted, the victims of the tragedy remain anonymous - but on this occasion, Peres solemnly read out the family names of those who perished: Edery, Azoulai, Almaliach, Alkobi, Haroush, Ben Lulu, Gozlan, Dahan, Dadon, Liberty, Maman and Tzarfati.
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