Friday, July 25, 2008

Mark Oppenheimer - Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans

This is the third installment in the 'Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans' series. For details on how to submit click here. Click here to see other contributions.

On the wings of eagles

In 1984 an elite army unit was sent into the hills of Gonder to complete a secret mission and save thousands of lives. I am not talking about an episode of the A team or Lord of the Rings fan fiction, I am talking about Operation Moses. For some time the Israeli government had been aware of an isolated community of Jews living in Ethiopia. There was debate about whether they were the product of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba or the remaining descendants of the lost tribe of Dan, but it was certain that they would be massacred in an escalating civil war if nothing was done. With little time to spare, the army was sent in to perform one of the most dangerous rescue missions in military history.

The soldiers parachuted into a remote mountain village and within minutes they realized that their mission was impossible. In order to airlift the community to safety they would need at least a two kilometer landing strip for their aircraft to take off and they were confronted with nothing but rocky terrain. The nearest airport was being closely watched by Ethiopian militias so it could not be used for the rescue. The war had caused wide-spread famine and disease in the region. Given the severity of the situation it was decided that the children would be taken first and more units would be sent back for their parents.

Each group of 500 children was lead by 12 soldiers, one soldier for each biblical tribe of Israel. With little more than a map and a compass to guide them, they wandered through the desert reenacting a modern day exodus to the Promised Land. They travelled under cover of night for fear that they would be spotted by hostile soldiers and be captured or killed. As the dawn broke Israeli aircraft flew over their heads and dropped supplies for the journey. During the day they hid in caves and fields of crops; while the children rested the soldiers planned the night time journey.

After seventeen days they arrived in Sudan. With enormous relief the soldiers showed the children the jets that were waiting to take them to Jerusalem. The children stared at the jets and the desert that lay behind them and flat out refused to board. The soldiers tried everything from threats to candy to get them inside but they were met with nothing but resistance. Eventually the translator that had accompanied them on their journey asked if he could say a few words to the children. Almost immediately the children got up and boarded the aircraft. The soldiers looked on with bewilderment and asked the translator what he told them. He quoted from the prophet Isaiah “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” He knew that that the children were scared to get on to the airplanes because they had never seen them before, so he told them that they were eagles waiting to take them to Jerusalem.

Millions of Zimbabweans are threatened with death at the hands of their government and they are seeking refuge in South Africa. Instead of greeting those in need with compassion, some have reacted with cruelty. After having their shops ransacked and their homes burned to a crisp many are left with nowhere to turn. Maybe if we took a moment to notice what Israel does right, instead of showering it with blame, we would know how to help those in harm’s way.


Mark Oppenheimer holds a BA (LLB) as well as an Honours in Philosophy from the University of Cape Town. Mark is also a published photographer and he is currently participating in a photographic internship in Tel Aviv, Israel. Visit Liberty Addiction to view some of his work.

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