How the Mossad Ran a Seaside Resort as a Front for Rescuing Ethiopian Jews

May 3, 2018 | Allison Kaplan Sommer
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In the early 1980s, the Mossad developed a plan for transporting to Israel a substantial number of Ethiopian Jews who had taken refuge in Sudan. Since, then as now, there were no relations between Jerusalem and Khartoum, Israeli operatives purchased a defunct Italian resort on the coast of the Red Sea as a front for their activities, offering tourists windsurfing and diving classes while sending operatives out to locate refugees and lead them to safety. The episode is currently being made into a movie, scheduled for release later this year. Allison Kaplan Sommer describes what happened:

The story of Operation Brothers, [as it was known], actually dates to 1977 and the election of Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Reports came into Israel that Ethiopian Jews had started fleeing civil war and famine in their homeland, many heading to neighboring Sudan where they were being housed in refugee camps. Although Sudan was a predominantly Muslim state hostile to Israel, its geographical location made it a perfect pathway for Ethiopians hoping to continue on to the Jewish state. Begin summoned the then-head of the Mossad, Yitzḥak Ḥofi, to see what could be done. . . .

Deciding that [a] deserted holiday village could be an ideal staging area from which to smuggle the Ethiopians to Israel by sea, the Mossad hatched its plan. The Sudanese Tourist Corporation believed it was leasing the resort—for the princely sum of $320,000—to a Swiss company eager to create a new getaway destination. . . . The local employees knew nothing of the resort’s real goal, or the real identities of their bosses. And the guests who eventually stayed at the resort—making it such a success it even turned a profit—were also unaware of its true purpose. . . .

Gad Shimron, [one of the directors of the operation], stresses [in an interview that] it’s important to remember that the bravest people in the story weren’t the Mossad operatives, but those Ethiopian Jews who endured endless hardships trying to reach Israel by land, sea, or air. His book [on the subject] contains descriptions of these stoic, uncomplaining men, women, and children who crowded into trucks, hid in wadis and climbed into small boats or planes with no idea where they were headed, but with utter trust in their rescuers.

“What they went through in order to fulfill their dream of coming to Zion,” Shimron said, “no normal Israeli or any Westerner could have endured for even three days.”

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