A surprise for the president in Rosh Ha'ayin

Peres receives warm thanks from seniors who emigrated from Yemen in 1960s; group credits the president for masterminding in secret operation.

Peres meets with Yemenite immigrants 311 (photo credit: Yosef Avi Yair Engel)
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.
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.
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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 Minister.
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.