New light is being shed on the history and courage of the Ethiopian, Beta-Israel, Jewish community on their journeys towards Israel, specifically of one Farede Yazazao Aklum, a Beta Israel community leader in the 1970s.
Everything about the missions to bring the Ethiopian community to Israel is shrouded in mystery and secrecy. Most of all, the work of the Beta Israel community leaders and activists, who worked tirelessly in Ethiopia and beyond, is often overshadowed by work of the State, the Jewish Agency and even the IDF.
Farede Yazazao Aklum was one of the most prominent Zionist activists in Ethiopia in 1977 and after the Ethiopian government cut ties with Israel and proclaimed the Zionists in the country to be traitors, Aklum escaped to Sudan.
The passport issued to Farede Yazazao Aklum in Sudan (From Shmuel Yalma's book "The Road to Jerusalem")
Aklum's ingenuity came out in full force while he was in exile in Sudan. He knew he had to work in order to get his community out of the country and to safety in a time of civil war and uncertainty in Ethiopia. In order to do this, he sent a telegram to the Israeli Consulate in Geneva with a simple request; to be sent home.
Aklum, of course, didn't specify where "home" was. When the Israeli authorities, including Mossad, caught wind of him and his work in Ethiopia, they realized a man of his esteem and with his connections would be invaluable for a rescue mission of this magnitude. Once Mossad made contact with Aklum, he decided to start working under the purview of Israel in order to get as many Beta Israel Jews out of Ethiopia and into Israel as quickly as possible and keep them from becoming casualties of the civil war raging in the country.
Farede Aklum along with Beta Israel refugees in Sudan, with the help of Mossad - The picture is taken from pamphlet "Groundbreaking Leadership - the heroic story of Farede Yazazao Aklum"
The plan had to be secret and slow, Aklum didn't want to risk his people in a rash mission, and he first smuggled his family through Sudan under the guise of refugees, not so very far from the truth. The success of that plan emboldened Aklum and the Mossad, and so more and more Beta Israel Jews were smuggled to Israel via Sudan.
That isn't to say the journey was easy, it was fraught and dangerous, and it's estimated that approximately 4000 people died on their way from Ethiopia, through the Sudanese refugee camps, and finally Israel.
Farede and his wife Samira in 2006, (photo credit: Batia Makover), the picture is taken from pamphlet "Groundbreaking Leadership - the heroic story of Farede Yazazao Aklum"
Fareda Yazazao Aklum continued to work for the rest of his life towards the betterment of the Beta Israel community both in Ethiopia and in Israel, aiding in their absorption and integration into Israeli society. He died in 2009 during a visit to Ethiopia and was buried in the new cemetery of the city of Be'er Sheva in the south of Israel