Oz was on the deck at Entebbe for less than one hour, while his airplane's crew of soldiers helped to secure the airport, sabotage Ugandan MIGs and acquire fuel for their return trip. The former hostages came home on a fourth cargo plane, Oz said, which was on the ground for less than the 10 minutes it took to load them.
The story of the rescue has been told in several books and Hollywood films. And the lone Israel Defense Forces casualty, raid commander Yoni Netanyahu (older brother of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), has been lionized.
"It was a very daring mission," Oz admits. "You have to remember, 30 years ago GPS (ed. note: the Global Positioning Satellite guidance system) was not in existence. We were navigating by time and heading, like in World War II. We had no radio aids, flying through pitch-dark Africa, beyond the range of the Hercules. We flew seven and a half hours in tight formation from Tel Aviv to Uganda, trying to find this landing runway. We had no lights."
Oz has told the story of Entebbe many times. But it was hardly the only historic event that the former Harry Klausner of Germany experienced. A child survivor of the Holocaust, Klausner/Oz made his way to pre-independence Israel in 1946 with his parents. A decade later, he became one of the Jewish state's early air force pilots. Oz (by then, Ben-Gurion himself had Hebraicized Klausner's name) led a transportation squadron during the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars.
But it was after he'd retired from the air force and joined El Al Israel Airlines that he took part in "Operation Solomon," the historic, mass airlift of Ethiopian Jews, which brings him to Kansas City next week. (See box for details, Page 7) Oz will speak on behalf of the Jewish Federation's "Operation Promise," a special, three-year national fund-raising campaign, which has as one its main goals the support of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants to Israel.
Rescue in Ethiopia
If the raid on Entebbe - or Operation Thunderbolt, as it was known during planning - was Arieh Oz's single most dramatic flight, Operation Solomon - the massive 1991 airlift that rescued thousands of Ethiopian Jews from dire conditions in their African homeland - affected more lives.
A total of 14,324 Ethiopian Jews were rescued and resettled in Israel, twice the number as in the 1983-84 "Operation Moses," and in a fraction of the time. It began Friday, May 30, 1991, and ended 36 hours later.
Arieh Oz himself flew more than 1,000 of those black Jews from their war-torn African homeland to the land of Israel. Ethiopia's Jewish community had celebrated and revered Israel, possibly for millennia, according to their pre-Talmudic interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. But the Jews had faced discrimination in Ethiopia and lived in impoverished, backward conditions before making their way to the capital in 1991, with the help of Jewish Agency emissaries, in preparation for an airlift.
"I was the first 747 ever to land in Addis Ababa," Oz recalled of the 1991 operation. "I was supposed to pick up 760 passengers. I had 760 seats - really crowded and specially prepared. But the Ethiopians are small, and they sat four or five on a double seat; six in triple; some on the floor. We loaded 760, and the plan was still half-empty. So the guys running the operation said 'Take more. We are running out of time.' So I said bring them on. It wound up in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest single passenger flight."
Oz will be in greater Kansas City as part of a two-week, eight-city speaking tour on behalf of Operation Promise.
"Operation Promise is trying to raise money to help out the Israeli government in providing for Ethiopian children whatever they need in welfare and education," Oz said. "They are very talented. Already they are lawyers and doctors, army officers, a member of Knesset. But there is a lot to do. This is only the cream of the pie.
The pie itself has to get some treatment. The whole story is that there is a lot of misconduct, drugs and so on. And racism. They are blacks. It's not different than any country in the world. But always they are accepted as equals. We have to do something about it. They are brother Jews, entitled to all I am entitled to. It costs money to educate and care for people. That why I volunteered to do this trip."
Operation Solomon pilot
to speak for Operation Promise
Arieh Oz will speak at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, in Room 211 in the Carlsen Center of Johnson County Community College. Those attending will have an opportunity to pledge a donation to Operation Promise, and their names entered into a drawing for one of two $600 subsidies that may be used for any Jewish Federation or United Jewish Communities trip to Israel.
For reservations for Oz's local appearance (they're required), or for information on Operation Promise, call Gail Weinberg, Federation financial resource development director, (913) 327-8123, or visit www.jewishkansascity.org.
UJC, the Federation's national partner organization, launched Operation Promise to raise $160 million in new funds to help Ethiopian Jews resettling in Israel and elderly Jews who remain behind in the former Soviet Union. Bob Cutler and Patricia Werthan Uhlmann are leading the effort in Kansas City's Jewish community to raise $950,000 over three years.
© Kansas City Jewish Chronicle 2006