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Today's News

May 28, 2015



24 Years Since Airlift of 14,500 Ethiopian Jews in Under 2 Days



This past Sunday, the IDF  marked 24 years since Operation Solomon, which was conducted on May 24, 1991, and saw 14,500 Ethiopian Jews airlifted to Israel by 34 planes in 36 hours, constituting the largest aerial mission to bring Jews home to Israel.


Ethiopia had prohibited its Jews from making aliyah (immigration) to Israel, leading Israel in the 1970s to authorize the IDF to act in bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel, reports the official IDF Blog. Three massive airlift operations were conducted starting in 1984, concluding with Operation Solomon.


"Operation Solomon truly represents what Zionism is," said Maj. Gen. Avihu Bin-Nun, who was the commander of the IAF at the time of the operation. "It demonstrates the purpose for the State of Israel: to provide a home and shelter for Jews around the world who have suffered and were prosecuted merely for bearing the Jewish religion." He remarked on the historical scale of the operation, noting "never before, did so few pilots transport such a great number of people in such a short time."


The IDF decided to launch the operation due to the great danger posed to the Ethiopian Jewish community, given the high political instability in the nation at the time and the risk of Eritrean rebels seizing control. Responding to the threat, $35 million was raised almost immediately by the Jewish community to pay the Ethiopian government so it would let the Jews leave.


No fewer than six Boeing 707 planes and 18 Hercules planes, capable of carrying 18,000 people, were deployed by the IAF for the mission, which brought Ethiopian Jews via Boeing 707s to Addis Ababa in a three-hour flight, and from there to Israel in the Hercules in a five-hour flight.


Lt. Col. A., who landed the first Boeing in Ethiopia, recalled that "the first control tower in the northern part of the country did not even respond to our call, as the local city was taken over by rebels, hours earlier. There was a lot of traffic over the airport at Addis-Ababa, and we had to wait for 30 minutes before we could land. The airport itself was very organized, and ground services worked very well," he said.


Local Jews were gathered at the Israeli embassy and bused to the planes. In order to fly out as many as possible, the seats of the planes were removed, with each aircraft made able to contain up to 1,200 passengers. "I vividly remember those images from Addis Ababa,” stated Maj. B., an IAF pilot who flew in the mission. "An incredible number of people walked towards the plane, organized in groups of 200. The doctors and paramedics provided ongoing support."


"The people who arrived during Operation Solomon fled their country with nothing but the clothes they were wearing," wrote Anat Tal-Shir, a reporter for Yedioth Aharonot, at the time. "The children stayed close to their mothers. A young man carried his elderly father on his shoulders. They both bent down and kissed the Israeli soil." Mukat Abag, a 29-year-old rescued in the operation, said at the time, "we didn’t bring any of our clothes; we didn’t bring any of our things. But we are very glad to be here."


Former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz also took part in the mission, leading the ground operation as commander of the IAF's elite Shaldag commando force. Speaking 20 years after it happened, he recalled, "as commander of Shaldag Unit, I had to deal primarily with technical details. Only during the mission did I get a sense of how meaningful it was to be part of this crucial event. It’s a turning point in my service which encompasses both my Zionist values and the meaning of our existence in this country.”



Ethiopians Protest Family's Aliyah Conditions



Two Ethiopian Israelis who recently finished their military service in combat units protested Wednesday morning outside of the Ministry of Absorption offices in Petah Tikvah demanding that authorities allow for their siblings to make Aliyah from Ethiopia where they still live. Argawi Tasfa (23) and Chalachew Mekonen (22) were joined at the protest by friends from their army units.


"I have a 30-year-old sister who's been refused (the right) to make Aliyah for 11 years," said Tasfa who served in the paratrooper's battalion. "She was supposed to come with us to Israel in 2004 and they told us that because she was pubescent she would come one month after us. With time it was postponed because of the creation of committees and changes in the criteria and now they're ready for her to come with humanitarian approval without the status or rights of a new immigrant."


Tasfa hasn't seen his sister, who's lived in Gondar since her brother left, and he hasn't met his nephews, ages five and 10. "It's time that she made Aliyah and joined the family and her seven brothers in Israel," continued Tasfa. "She needs to come like every new immigrant, as a right, not charity. She should have been with her family who's thousands of kilometers away."


Mekonen, who served in Givati, said that his longing is increasing for his 19-year-old brother who stayed in Ethiopia and that he's beginning to lose hope. "It's sad that the country divides families; when we made Aliyah they wanted my brother to stay with his mother in Ethiopia, and now that he's an adult the bureaucracy is wearing us down."


By the decision of the Absorption Ministry's legal counsel, Michal Shitrit-Ravel, that was given two weeks ago, "This case addresses the siblings of soldiers who only received entry permits for humanitarian reasons from the Interior Minister, therefore they can come to Israel whenever they wish.


Because their siblings didn't receive new immigrant status, Tasfa and Mekonen arrived Wednesday at the office of the Petah Tikvah manager in the Absorption Ministry, Meir Yehiel, who told them that his office has no way of helping them. "Minister Elkin refuses to meet with us," said Tasfa and Mekonen. They added that they intended to continue their struggle with the two relevant government offices, the Interior and Absorption Ministries. "We won't stop our just war until our siblings arrive in Israel," said the two.


The offices of Aliyah and Absorption said that, "In this case, the ministry isn't qualified to give these people immigrant rights, just as we aren't qualified and don't give immigrant rights to thousands of people who received humanitarian approval from all over the world, including the soldier's parents. The office of Aliyah and Absorption has never approved an absorption package for those who came to Israel just on humanitarian grounds, because we are not qualified to do so."


Most Holocaust Survivors Worldwide Remain in Poverty



A substantial number of the 500,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide are suffering from poverty and need urgent help to live a dignified life in their last years, an advisor to the US secretary of state said Wednesday.


"It's really unacceptable that those people who in their youth suffered so grievously should have to live out their declining years in deprivation, isolation and poverty," Stuart Eizenstat, special advisor on Holocaust issues to John Kerry told AFP.


"In New York City alone, of the 60,000 survivors, 50% are in that state. In Israel about a third are, and in the former Soviet Union countries upwards of 85-90% are in poverty," he said on the sidelines of a conference in Prague. "All the surveys indicate that substantial percentages of those (survivors) are living in poverty or near poverty," Eizenstat added.


The two-day "Living in Dignity" conference was organized by the European Shoah Legacy Institute as a follow-up to the Terezin declaration signed by 47 countries and the EU in the Czech Republic in 2009.


Named after a Czech wartime ghetto, the declaration urged the restitution of Jewish assets stolen by the Nazis during World War II and social aid for poor Holocaust survivors.   Each signatory should name a government official to help survivors handle programs available to them, while the EU should appoint a person to tackle anti-Semitism, Holocaust issues and the implementation of the declaration, said Eizenstat, adding that France, Germany and other countries had sold heirless Jewish properties confiscated by the Nazis to raise funds for social benefits.


Austria and Poland have programs to pay pensions to survivors who suffered on their territories but live abroad, while Germany is running a four-year $1 billion (920-million-euro) home care program for survivors.


Too Late for Moses: New Israeli App for Stutterers



An Israeli mobile app that uses the world’s first stuttering detection algorithm to help stutterers overcome their condition comes 3,500 years too late for the most famous Jewish stutterer, Moses, but not a moment too soon for present day sufferers of the condition.


NiNiSpeech is a mobile health solution that helps people who stutter  maintain fluent speech, and allows speech-language pathologists to monitor their clients’ fluency in everyday settings, Yair Shapira, founder & CEO of NiNiSpeech, told ISRAEL21c.


The mobile solution, which will cost $50 to $100 monthly, provides the stutterer with immediate feedback on speech fluency by means of a buzz or vibration. This gives the stutterer a chance to monitor performance, improve fluency, achieve speech goals and gain rewards. The second stage of the solution, which is unique in the field, measures stuttering.


“When you’re on a diet, you weigh yourself. When you run or do fitness, you have a stopwatch so you know how well you’re doing, whether you’re progressing or not. In speech there’s no correlation between subjective experience of the stutterer and his real stutter,” explained Shapira.  “So, a stutterer can work for one to three months and still won’t know if he progressed. This is a system that will let him know.”


In addition, “NiNiSpeech can show the therapist what’s going on outside the clinic and it changes the way that the person who stutters can see his stutter,” added Shapira. “It can truly revolutionize the whole industry of stuttering treatment.”


Shapira, a veteran of the Israeli high-tech field, recently left his executive position at  iViNetworks, and started NiNiSpeech together with Yoav Medan, who led IBM’s speech processing unit and served as CTO of InSightec, and Ofer Amir, who heads Tel Aviv University School of Communication Disorders.


He did so after years in which he watched his 17-year-old son, Niv, try new therapies and treatments for his stammer, to no avail. NiNiSpeech is named for Niv, whose stutter was especially prominent when he tried to say his name, “Ni-Ni-Niv.”


The Haifa-based startup, launched in January, has already picked up several innovation awards and is now heading to clinical trials in the United States, China, Portugal and Israel. The Chinese trials could be the most meaningful, said Shapira. “In China, it is considered a family shame if you stutter. And there are very few speech therapists in China,” he told Israel21c. Assuming the trials are successful, the NiNiSpeech application should be on the market by summer.















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 Paradise Regained, Paradise Lost

By Don Canaan (Commentary)

This year marked the 34th anniversary of the return of the Sinai by Israel to Egypt--a day of mourning by many of the 2,000 settlers who settled and later were forcibly evacuated by Israeli authorities under the command of Ariel Sharon, from the seaside city of Yamit on the Mediterranean.

Yamit was former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan's dream--a projected seaport and city of 250,000 founded on the Sinai sand dunes overlooking date palm trees and the blue Mediterranean--a populated buffer between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on the other side of the Suez Canal.

Some alternate historians say Moses and the children of Israel passed near the site of Yamit 3,500 years ago as they wandered for 40 years through the Sinai Desert on their way to the proverbial land of milk and honey.

Since April 25, 1982 only the whine of the desert wind weaves its currents through the crevices of destroyed homes, businesses and monument--a memorial to the young men who died during the 1967 Six Day war.

Christians, Jews and Muslims died during three Arab-Israeli wars and battles that took place in the Sinai in 1956, 1967 and 1973--Egyptian and Israeli--young people who fought and died in that desolate, forsaken desert wasteland.

The modern-day chariot carrying Egyptian President Mohammed Anwar al-Sadat hugged the intermittently green coastline of Sinai on its historic mission to Jerusalem. Israelis glancing upward into the clear night sky saw merely a jet banking gently to the northwest.

Official Israeli government policy was that the settlers had to be removed and the army came and forcibly removed the remaining diehard residents. The Jerusalem Post described the scene: Apocalypse had arrived in Yamit and in the dust and noise and destruction one could wander freely. Dozens of bulldozers and giant mobile air hammers were loose in the city like a pack of predatory beasts."

April 25, 20011 marked the 29th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Yamit and Sinai and a cold peace between long-term enemies.

That gift of peace silently glided overhead as the Sabbath disappeared and the stars appeared. At 8:01 p.m. Sadat's jetliner landed at Ben-Gurion Airport and the first minutes of a then potential peace came to the Middle East.

Old enemies became new friends. The crowds roared its approval when Sadat shook hands with Moshe Dayan. A person standing nearby, according to the Jerusalem Post, said Sadat told Dayan, "Don't worry Moshe, it will be all right."

The peace treaty between the two nations was signed on March 26, 1979 and on April 25, 1982; the events that had started on a November day at Camp David came to fruition. Sinai was returned to Egypt. Yamit was bulldozed to the ground. But Anwar Sadat did not live to see that day. He had been assassinated seven months before.



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