(photo credit: AP)
In the first years of the state, Cuban planes and pilots brought nearly 150,000 Jews to Israel from Iraq, Iran, Yemen and India, the official Cuban newspaper Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) reported on Saturday. Unreported for 60 years, the airlift was one of the largest in history.
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In the years after Israel declared independence, Jews in Arab countries began emigrating to Israel as their lives became more difficult. However, due to the lack of cooperation by the Arab governments, traveling by land was very difficult. Since there were no diplomatic relations between Israel and the Arab countries, it was necessary for the aircraft to be from a neutral country, according to the Juvente Rebelde report.
The Cuban connection stemmed from someone in the Israeli trade mission
in New York's close friendship with Cuban businessman Narciso
Otero-Roselló, a licensed pilot, according to the report. The
businessman became president of new air company, Aerea de Cuba, which
took ownership of the aircraft to be used in the years-long airlift and
established offices in Havana and Nicosia in Cyprus.
The Cuban pilots who flew the planes on the historic mission recalled several close calls to Juvente Rebelde
They told of dust storms suffocating their engines in Iraq, making
stops on desolate airstrips in Oman when making the long flights from
India to Israel, emergency landings, and crashes while transporting Jews
In early 1953, when their special mission was completed, the pilots returned to Cuba, Juvente Rebelde
reported. This newly discovered chapter in Jewish and Israeli history
shows how far-off countries assisted the Jewish people in the building
of the state of Israel.