Operation Magic Carpet, conducted by the fledgling Jewish state, brought 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel, beginning in February 1949 and culminating with the rescue of 50,000 in September 1950.
According to several historical sources, the ancient Jewish community in Yemen preceded the destruction of the First Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the year 586 BCE. It is believed that when the prophet Ezra had encouraged Jews to return from exile to Israel to rebuild the Temple (circa 538 BCE), the Jews of Yemen refused; they were convinced that a new Temple would also be destroyed. Most Yemeni Jews posited that a return to the Land of Israel was dependent on the arrival of the Messiah – not unlike a popular school of thought among other Jewish communities around the world.
There was sporadic immigration from Yemen to Israel throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, beginning with Ottoman rule over large sections of the country in 1872, which made it easier to leave for the Holy Land. Between 1881 and 1917, roughly 5,000 made Aliyah. In 1922, however, new restrictions slowed the process.
Unlike most Arab countries, in 1949, following Israel’s War of Independence, Yemenite policy changed to allow Jews to leave, but only if they sold their property first. Hearing about a planned Israeli airlift, thousands made their way, often with great risk and difficulty, to the British-ruled colony of Aden, which for many took several weeks.
The people were centralized next to Aden in an encampment that was nicknamed Geula (Redemption). Since there are no land links between Israel and Yemen, it was necessary to transport all of the immigrants by air. There was also a sense of urgency, as many feared that Yemen’s ruling imam might change his mind about permitting them to leave.
The Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency coordinated the airlifts, which began in February 1949. The final flight of what became known as Operation Magic Carpet arrived in Israel on September 24, 1950.
Another name for the rescue effort is “On Eagles’ Wings,” derived from the Book of Exodus, 19:4, where it is written “…and I will transport you on eagles’ wings and bring you to me…”
By: United with Israel Staff
(With files from the Center for Israel Education and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption)