Operation Magic Carpet (Yemen)

Operation Magic Carpet (Yemen)

Yemenite Jews en route to Israel from Aden, Yemen

Operation Magic Carpet is a widely known nickname for Operation On Wings of Eagles (Hebrew: כנפי נשרים‎, Kanfei Nesharim), an operation between June 1949 and September 1950 that brought 49,000 Yemenite Jews to the new state of Israel.[1] During its course, the overwhelming majority of Yemenite Jews – some 47,000 Yemeni, 1,500 Aden as well as 500 Djiboutian and Eritrean Jews – were airlifted to Israel. British and American transport planes made some 380 flights from Aden, in a secret operation that was not made public until several months after it was over. At some point, the operation was also called Operation Messiah's Coming.

The Operation

The operation's official name originated from two biblical passages:

  • Book of Exodus 19:4 - Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.[2]
  • Book of Isaiah 40:31 - 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.[3]

Operation Magic Carpet was the first in a series of operations. Israel sees the rescue operation as a successful rescue of Yemen's community from oppression towards redemption. 49,000 Jews were brought to Israel under the program.[4]

A street in Jerusalem, one in Herzliya, and another in Kerem HaTeimanim, Tel Aviv were named "Kanfei Nesharim" (Wings of Eagles) in honor of this operation.

In 1948 there were 55,000 Jews living in Yemen, and another 8,000 in the British Colony of Aden.

Anti Jewish violence

Following the 1947 UN Partition Plan, Muslim rioters attacked the Jewish community in Aden that killed at least 82 jews (1947 Aden riots) and destroyed a number of Jewish homes. Early in 1948, accusations of the murder of two Muslim Yemeni girls led to looting of Jewish property.[5] [6]

Reasons for the exodus

Esther Meir-Glitzenstein,[7] argues that collusion between Israel and the Imam of Yemen who "profited hugely from confiscatory taxes levied on the Jewish community" led to a botched operation in which the Jewish community suffered terribly. [8] Reuven Ahroni[9] and Tudor Parfitt[10] argue that economic motivations also had a role in the massive emigration of Yemeni Jews, which began prior to 1948.

Tudor Parfitt described the reasons for the exodus as multifaceted, some aspects due to Zionism and others more historically based:


Esther Meir-Glitzenstein also criticized the execution of the operation. She especially criticized the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Israel, which according to her abandoned thousands of Jews in the deserts on the border between Yemen and North Aden. Mismanagement or corruption by the imam of Yemen, the British authorities, and the Jewish Agency also played a role. Some 850 Yemenite Jews died en route to their departure points, and in the community which reached Israel infant mortality rates were high, but still lower than in Yemen.[12][13]According to David Ben-Gurion's diary, the Yemeni children in the Israeli ma'abarot or tent transit camps were dying like flies. Children were often separated from their parents for hygienic reasons, or taken away to hospitals for treatment, but often parents only received notification, often by loudspeaker, they had died. According to some testimony, there was a suspicion that the state kidnapped healthy Yemeni children, for adoption, and then informed the parents they had died. As a result, some decades later, a 'Yemenite Children Affair' exploded, in which it was rumoured that some thing of the order of 1,000 children had gone missing.[14]

The Jewish community in Yemen after the operation

In 1959, another 3,000 Jews from Aden fled to Israel while many more left as refugees to the [19] During the Gaza War, the Jewish communities in Raydah were attacked several times.[20]

It was forbidden for native-born Yemeni Jews who had left the country to reenter, rendering communication with these communities difficult. Muslims were therefore hired as shelihim (emissaries) to locate the remaining Jews, pay their debts, and transport them to Aden. Little came of this.[21]

See also


  1. ^ Ministry of Immigrant Absorption: On Eagles’ Wings” – Aliyah from Yemen (1949): Retrieved 23 June 2012
  2. ^ "MLibrary Digital Collections: King James Bible: Exodus 19:4". Quod.lib.umich.edu. Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  3. ^ "MLibrary Digital Collections: King James Bible: Isaiah 40:31". Quod.lib.umich.edu. Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  4. ^ Tom Segev, 1949: The First Israelis. 1998, pp.182-185
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Reuben Ahroni, Jewish Emigration from the Yemen, 1951-98: Carpet Without Magic, pp.xi-xii, p.1.
  7. ^ Esther Meir-Glitzenstein, The Exodus of the Yemenite Jews − A Failed Operation and a Formative Myth, Resling, Tel Aviv 2012.
  8. ^ 'Operation Magic Carpet: Constructing the Myth of the Magical Immigration of Yemenite Jews to Israel,' in Israel Studies, vol.16, No.3 (Fall) 2011 pp.149-173.
  9. ^ Reuben Ahroni, Jewish Emigration from the Yemen, 1951-98: Carpet Without Magic, pp.xi-xii, p.20.
  10. ^ Parfitt, Tudor. The Road to Redemption: The Jews of the Yemen, 1900-1950. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996).
  11. ^ Tudor Parfitt (1996). The Road to Redemption – The Jews of the Yemen 1900-1950. Brill. p. 285. 
  12. ^ Vered Lee 'The frayed truth of Operation Magic Carpet,' at Haaretz, 28 May 2012
  13. ^ Tudor Parfitt, The Road to Redemption: The Jews of the Yemen, 1900-1950, BRILL, 1996 p.239ff.
  14. ^ Meira Weiss, 'The Immigrating Body and the Body Politic: The 'Yemenite Children Affair' and Body Commodification in Israel,' in Nancy Scheper-Hughes,Loic Wacquant, (eds.) Commodifying Bodies, Sage Publications, 2002 pp.93-110, pp.93ff.
  15. ^ The Jews of Yemen by Mitchell Bard], Jewish Virtual Library
  16. ^ Fact Sheet: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries, Jewish Virtual Library, September 2012
  17. ^ Persecuted Yemeni Jews to be given sanctuary in Britain, The Independent, 14 April 2010.
  18. ^ "Wife, children of gunned down Yemenite teacher make aliyah - Israel News, Ynetnews". Ynetnews.com. 1995-06-20. Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  19. ^ Amnesty Int’l urges Yemen to protect its Jew, JTA, 24-12-2008.
  20. ^ Minderheiten: Verloren zwischen den FrontenMartin Gehlen, in: Der Tagesspiegel, 14 July 2009
  21. ^ Reuven Ahloni, Jewish Emigration from the Yemen, 1951-98, pp. 11ff.

External links

  • Photographs of Operation Magic Carpet from the JDC Archives