Operation Magic Carpet: Constructing the Myth of the Magical Immigration of Yemenite Jews to Israel


In 1949 the majority of Yemenite Jewry—more than 40,000 persons—arrived in Israel. Their arrival was the result of an Israeli initiative, in cooperation with Jewish organizations and the rulers of Aden and Yemen. However, the gradual, planned departure turned into a hasty mass exodus that cost hundreds of lives. The suffering and the victims were mostly the result of failures by the organizers: the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, in charge of the operation with the assistance of the Jewish Agency, and the government of Israel. Despite its catastrophic characteristics, the immigration from Yemen was described in terms of rescue, miracles, and redemption—a combination of eschatological and orientalist concepts. In the following years "Operation Magic Carpet" was commemorated in the naming of streets and was praised in literature, poetry, historical research, and in the collective memory of Yemenite Immigrants in Israel, becoming one of the establishing images of the relationship between the state and its Mizrahi citizens. It presented these Jews as victims of persecutions by hostile Arab rule, victims who were sentenced to poverty and to social and cultural degeneration. According to this image, Israel was portrayed as a rescuer of these wretched Jews.