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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Operation Magic Carpet

Along with our ruin research, we're going to be focusing on the history and development of Rosh Ha'ayin. This was bound to lead to a post about the dramatic Operation Magic Carpet, so here goes.

Between June 1949 and September 1950, nearly 50,000 Yemenite Jews were brought to Israel secretly, following pogroms and looting that stemmed from the UN Partition plan of 1947. Famously, many of the Yemenite Jews knew nothing about airplanes, but boarded the DC-4 or C-46 aircrafts when they were reminded of the biblical verses about being returned to Israel "on eagles' wings." Many thousands of these refugees passed through Rosh Ha'ayin between 1949 and 1951, with about 8,000 settling there permanently. The city crest of Rosh Ha'ayin bears a pair of wings and the phrase "on eagles' wings" as a result.

The airline that took part in Magic Carpet was Alaska Airlines, and on their website they proudly tell a number of stories from the operation. One article tells of Warren and Marian Metzger, he an airline captain and she a stewardess, who served on the mission. Warren Metzger explained that:
"I had no idea what I was getting into, absolutely none. It was pretty much seat-of-the-pants flying in those days. Navigation was by dead reckoning and eyesight. Planes were getting shot at. The airport in Tel Aviv was getting bombed all the time. We had to put extra fuel tanks in the planes so we had the range to avoid landing in Arab territory."
Another posting tells of Stanley Epstein, who volunteered as a pilot, and a narrow escape by Bob Maguire, who was forced to land his plane in Egypt but managed to convince the Egyptians to refuel his plane by telling them the passengers had smallpox. Maguire's obituary appeared in the New York Times in 2005. Yet another article tells of James Wooten, then the president of Alaska Airlines, who "was the driver behind Alaska's participation in the airlift, and he played a key role in the logistics of the nearly year-long operation that made the mission successful despite many challenges."

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