Operation Michaelberg's Iraqi immigrants mark 70th anniversary

Iraqi olim celebrate the anniversary of their immigration to Israel at Atlit museum.

ISRAELIS WHO made aliya in Operation Michaelberg attend the commemoration in Atlit on Wednesday. (photo credit: Courtesy)
ISRAELIS WHO made aliya in Operation Michaelberg attend the commemoration in Atlit on Wednesday.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Seventy years after the Mossad LeAliya Bet’s Operation Michaelberg brought 100 Iraqi Jews to British Mandate Palestine by air, Israelis who were on the flight marked the anniversary together, at the site of the former Atlit Detention Camp.
The hundreds of guests who attended the event on Wednesday night also included family members of the rescued Jews and aliya activists who had been involved in their immigration.
An aircraft of the same model as the one they traveled on to the Lower Galilee village of Yavne’el in 1947 featured at the ceremony. Earlier this year, the Curtiss C-46 Commando transport aircraft was brought to Israel from Alaska, and restored.
The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, which brought the plane to Israel with the support of the Jewish National Fund USA, intends to turn it into an interactive display that will tell the story of the immigration to visitors to the Clandestine Jewish Immigration Information and Research Center, which is located at the site of the former British detention camp.
“I am excited this evening, here in the Atlit refugee camp, as I was 70 years ago when I landed in the plowed field at Yavne’el,” said former Aliya Bet agent Shlomo Hillel, 94. Hillel led the operation, which was the first to bring Jews to British Mandate Palestine illegally via the air.
Immigrants told their children and grandchildren the story of their immigration to Israel. The operation was complicated and dangerous, carried out under the noses of the Iraqi authorities, and landing in Palestine in violation of British White Paper restrictions.
The Iraqi-born Hillel made aliya in 1934 with his family, at age 11. In 1946, he flew to Baghdad on an Iraqi passport and remained there for one year.
After Operation Michaelberg, Hillel visited Baghdad again in 1950 to negotiate the mass immigration of the Jews of Iraq, 120,000 of whom were airlifted to Israel in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah between 1950 and 1952. On these trips, he disguised himself as either a Frenchman or an Englishman. The airlift was made possible through the cooperation of Iran.
Hillel subsequently served as, minister of police and minister of internal affairs, and speaker of the Knesset. In 1988, he was awarded the Israel Prize.