TEL AVIV/BEER SHEVA – “The Red Sea Diving Resort,” a Netflix movie, tells the true story of how a trendy beach resort became the key location for a covert operation to rescue and funnel thousands of Ethiopian Jews fleeing a civil war via Sudan to Israel.
The movie, which features Chris Evans, Michael K. Williams y Ben Kingsley, focuses on the epic task a group of Israeli Mossad intelligence agents undertook in the early 1980s to help Ethiopian Jews migrate to Israel.
The agents helped thousands travel across Sudanese deserts both on foot an by air and used a hotel on Port Sudan beach as a front to smuggle Ethiopians out of the war-torn country.
The operation was backed by then prime minister Menajem Beguin who recognized Ethiopian Jews as Jews and who up until then had been considered an “exotic tribe,” Gad Shimron, an agent for the Mossad told Efe.
“It was like a zionist James Bond operation,” Shimron, who was a key player of the team that created the resort as a cover.
Shimron became one of the first people to tell the extraordinary true story through his book, “Mossad Exodus.”
The covert agent was arrested during the operation in Sudan and witnessed the scene featured in the movie during which Sudanese forces started firing at the Israeli Mossad agents when they mistook them for traffickers.
“There was not one single paragraph in the rule book on how to operate, in terms of risks taken and cover stories, the modus operandi, everything was done in an improvised way,” he added.
If the same task had been handed over to the top unit of the Mossad, they would have delayed the operation six months to plan it, spent millions of dollars on executing it and would have rescued 20 Jews, whilst Shirmon’s team rescued 6,000.
One of the most surprising things to happen throughout the operation was how the hotel became a thriving business and a magnet for reveling tourists who flocked to the resort to join the alcohol-fueled parties and activities such as diving and windsurfing.
Beyond the extraordinary stories of Israeli intelligence offers, the movie also tells the story of the many Jewish Ethiopians who, Shimron points out, were the true heroes of the operation.
They crossed 700 kilometers from their villages before reaching Sudan an operation that was overseen by Farede Aklum, played by Michael K. Williams in the movie.
“The trip was very tough, it was a very, very long journey, more than two months from our village in Ethiopia to Sudan and on the way there were a lot of difficulties in terms of food, water, people that got sick on the way an we had no doctor with us, no hospital, so people died on the way,” Beer Sheva Naftali Aklum, Farede’s brother who was only one when he joined his family in Israel, told Efe.
Even though Naftali feels the full story of his community is not reflected in the movie, he recognized that ultimately it is a positive thing that can raise awareness of the plight Ethiopian Jews faced.
Nearly 40 years have passed since “Operation Moses” but Ethiopian Jews who exiled to Israel and their offspring are not yet fully integrated and have recently led a series of protests against what police brutality towards their communities.
The protests left several police officers and protesters injured and there were some arrests.
Naftali thinks that if Fayede, who died 10 years ago, had witnessed the protests he would have questioned whether bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel was a good thing.
“He wanted them to feel safe, and really be part of Israeli society so when it didn’t happen, I remember days that he was very sad,” Naftali said.
“The Israeli government has done unbelievable efforts to bring them and also invested a lot of money into absorbing them,” Shimron said.
“In the process of absorption terrible mistakes were done,” he added.
“Unfortunately Israeli society has large segments of racists, especially the ultra-orthodox, but also some other people,” Shimron lamented.