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January 11, 1985 - Image 18

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-01-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

18

Friday, January 11, 1985

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

'1 11 41 111 7

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Ethiopian rescue

Continued from Page 15

sands of refugees in the Sudan,
waiting to be identified by their
brethren, fearful of being iden-
tified by their enemies. And not
while lives — lives like Aharon's
— were being risked to rescue
those Jews.
I became convinced, after a
week of traveling in Ethiopia,
that the Mengistu government
hadn't gotten wind yet of Opera-
tion Moses. It became clear, too,
that the government wanted to
hold onto its Jews. I was also
convinced that Israel was the
place that the Ethiopian Jews
wanted to be; convinced by the
prayerful posture they assumed
whenever Israel or Jerusalem
was mentioned. Some even pro-
strated themselves. I was con-
vinced too, by the snapshots of
relatives in Israel that people
displayed proudly and longing-
ly in virtually every village.
Last week, five short weeks
after Operation Moses went in-
to high gear and Israel's Ethio-
pian community had reportedly
reached approximately 12,000
— half of the Ethiopian Jews in
the world — the international
media released fullblown stories
about the whole movement.
Clues about its general outlines
had already leaked out.
The rescue mission was
abruptly halted. The Belgian
airline that had been flying the
people out of the Sudan cancell-
ed its airlift. Ethiopia's govern-
ment accused Israel of sinister
and illegal trafficking in its
citizens. Sudan and other
governments roundly denied im-
plication in any aspect of Opera-
tion Moses. Arab states con-
demned the entire migration.
There were rumors of a possi-
ble Israeli military operation to
rescue the 4,000 Jews still
stranded in the Sudan. Or
possibly some "quiet
diplomacy" to get them out.
I suspect that most of the peo-
ple I saw in Ethiopia in
November — and they were
overwhelmingly the aged,
women, children and the han-
dicapped — figure among the
6,000 or more souls still trapped
there:
The woman crippled by
spinabifeda who crawls around
on all fours in the dirt between
the mud huts.
The blind young mother who
is led around by her five-year-old
son.
The grizzled old man — he's
actually only 47 — who begged
us to carry his photograph to his
two sons at an Israeli youth
aliyah village so they would not
forget what their father looked
like. He never expected to see
them again. He has already liv-
ed several years longer than
most Ethiopians.
Then there was the teenage
boy who wanted to know if it
would be safe to risk the journey
by foot, across the mountains
and the desert, past the armed
bandits and revolutionaries, and
over the Sudanese border. If he
didn't go soon, the Ethiopian ar-
my would soon come and get
him. They had conscripted ful-

ly half the young men of his
village.
We sent that boy to speak to
Aharon.
In time, the names of the
Raoul Wallenbergs, the Hannah
Senecshes and the Anne Franks
of this era will become known.
I'm not even sure that I know
my friend Aharon's real name.
What I do know is that he is one
of the bravest people I ever met.
I hope he's still alive. When we
parted, I took both his brown
hands in mine, then embraced
him, proud to call him a brother.

Addis Ababa

An American Jew can't help
feeling uneasy arriving in a
country that has severed or-
dinary diplomatic relations with
both Israel and the United
States. The apprehension inten-
sifies as passports and visas are
examined carefully and airport
officials issue dire warnings
about the necessity to account
for every penny of foreign cur-
rency that is brought into
Ethiopia and changed into
Ethiopian birr. The government
wants to keep track of all money
that passes through foreigners'
hands.
The warning about currency
regulations was repeated several
times to us by a fat, officious
middle-aged woman who cir-
culated freely among arriving
tourists, greeting by name one
of the staff people with us from
the National Jewish Communi-
ty Relations Advisory Council
(NJCRAC), much to his chagrin.
The woman's English was
perfect. So is her comprehension
of Hebrew, it seems, and she is
no Jew. In the old days, before
the overthrow of the Emperor
Haile Selassie during the last
big famine in 1974, Israel train-
ed many Ethiopians.
Addis Ababa Airport had
been cleaned up and improved
for last September's lavish
celebration of the tenth anniver-
sary of the Marxist revolution.
Exotic calla lillies were planted
in neat rows like tulips in front
of the sprawling white terminal.
It was strange, given such trim-
mings, to see poor Ethiopians,
in their ragged and dirty togas,
called shammas, traveling with
personal sacks of grain. Grain is
a rare commodity now, at least
in some parts of the country.
The pungent, spicy aroma of
burning Eucalaptus assaults the
senses as soon as one steps out
of the tumult of the terminal
and into the hectic traffic. This
is a wood-based economy
despite its veneer of moderniza-
tion. People build with wood.
(and mud), cook their food with
it and warm themselves with it.
The eucalyptus odor pervades
the air everywhere, and clings to
all the textiles and to the people.
Much of the countryside has
been denuded of its trees.
The road from the airport to
the center of Addis Ababa, the
country's best, is lined with
rambling villas and newly con-

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