Peres celebrates 20th anniversary of Operation Solomon

President flies to Cyprus to discuss natural gas, reunification after hosting celebration of Operation Solomon 20th anniversary.

Peres 311 reuters (photo credit: Reuters)
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 anniversary.
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 impossible.”
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.
In total, 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 dignitaries.
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 subjects.
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 March.
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 neighbor.
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 government officials.