This Week in Israeli History: Operation Moses, Raful Eitan and the Patria Disaster

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Operation Moses
After word began to reach Israel in late 1984 that a large number of Ethiopian Jews were suffering from disease and malnutrition in Sudanese refugee camps, the Israeli government authorized a covert operation to airlift Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
With help from the CIA and Sudanese secret police, Israeli agents smuggled the Jews out of refugee camps and onto flights under the very noses of the local authorities. The seven-week clandestine operation began on November 21, 1984, and brought 8,000 Ethiopian Jews on over 30 flights to Israel.
The success of Operation Moses laid the groundwork for Operation Solomon six years later, when over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel on another covert operation.
Rafael "Raful" Eitan - IDF's 11th Chief of Staff
Raful was born in a small village in the Jezreel Valley in 1929. As a junior officer in the Palmach, he fought in Jerusalem during the War of Independence and received a head wound (the first of his many injuries).
In 1954, Eitan was selected to be part of the elite Unit 101 and was appointed company commander. He was awarded the Medal of Courage, one of Israel's highest military decorations, after successfully leading his troops on a daring mission into Syria despite a chest wound he had sustained.
In 1956, he was appointed commander of Battalion 890 of the Paratroopers Brigade and participated in the only paratroop jump in IDF history at the Mitla Pass. During the Six Day War, Eitan commanded the entire Paratrooper's Brigade and received a severe head wound amidst the fighting at the Suez Canal.
In 1978 he was appointed Chief of Staff and oversaw the famous bombing on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor and the First Lebanon War. He retired from the military in 1983 and formed his own political party, Tzomet, a nationalist party that opposed the idea of land swaps for peace. He held various ministerial positions until he retired from politics in 1999.
On November 23, 2004, Raful was overseeing a port expansion project by the Port of Ashdod and drowned when a stormy wave swept him into the sea.
The Patria Disaster
In 1940, in the midst of the growing Nazi offensive, the Central Office for Jewish Emigration (ZjA) managed to charter three ships to bring Jewish refugees from Romania to Mandatory Palestine. When the ships arrived, however, the British refused to allow the refugees to dock and planned to deport them.
To ease the logistical aspect of the deportation, the British transferred most of the Jewish passengers onto one ship, the Patria, which was docked at Haifa. From Haifa, the ship was set to expel the refugees to Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean.
Trying to halt the deportation, the Hanagah contrived a plan to plant a bomb on the ship that would disable it from sailing. However, they miscalculated the power of the bomb and the explosion tore through the ship and sank it. Over 200 Jewish refugees were killed and over 150 were injured.
The Patria Disaster caused shock and outrage among the Yishuv and within the ranks of the Haganah.The Haganah’s involvement only became known in 1957 when the operative who planted the bomb wrote about his role in the affair. Despite various conspiracy theories, there is no evidence to counter the Haganah’s account that there was never any intent to sink the ship.