Peres meets with Yemenite immigrants 311.
(photo credit: Yosef Avi Yair Engel)
It takes a lot to surprise President Shimon Peres. Talk about almost anything in Israel, and he's been there, done that.
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That may be one of the reasons that he so delights in the company of young children and 'teenagers, because they are still capable of coming up with questions that may not have been put to him before; or with statements that are so audacious, that they make him pause for thought.
On Tuesday, Peres paid an official visit to Rosh Ha'ayin, which in recent years was somewhat of a trouble spot.
It was a regular program of being hosted by Mayor Moshe Sinai, meeting with various sectors of the community, and spending time in a Q&A session with a huge representation of the city's youth.
Everything was going according to plan. Peres was on stage in the city's
Hall of Culture, fielding questions from adolescents, when six of the
city's senior citizens joined him.
Like most of the veteran residents of Rosh Ha'ayin, they were originally
from Yemen, and had been brought to Israel as children in 1962, in a
secret operation carried out by Mossad in coordination with the Israel
Air Force and master minded by Peres, who was then deputy Defense
At that time, Israel had secretly delivered arms and wireless equipment
to the royalist forces in Yemen, in return for which Israel was
permitted to smuggle out Jews by air and by sea.
"I came here from Yemen in 1962 as a 2 year old boy, and I am eternally
grateful to be a citizen of the State of Israel in which I live,"
Shmarya Katabi said to Peres. "I don't see myself anywhere else in the
world" Katabi attributed the success of that particular immigration
operation to Peres, thanked him profusely for his involvement and
expressed the appreciation of immigrants from Yemen for what the State
of Israel had done to bring them out of Yemen at a time when it was
almost impossible to leave.
Visibly moved by being taken back in time, Peres, who has played a
significant role in other rescue operations of Jews, recalled that in
the early 1960s, there had been severe unrest in Yemen and the King had
appealed to Israel to send arms. Israel agreed to help him on one
condition – that Yemen would open its gates to allow the Jews to leave.
Thus planes that brought ammunition to Yemen returned to Israel with
whole families of Jews on board.
Although the story sounds like fiction, Peres could testify that it was indeed fact.
"I'm so proud that we exchanged guns for immigrants from Yemen," he
said. "This is one of the most wonderful groups of immigrants that
Israel has ever known." When he first met with immigrants from Yemen,
Peres reminisced, he was under the impression that they were speaking
Biblical Hebrew. "We are fortunate that you came here," he said to the
aliya group of '62.