An experience of a modern day exodus from Cairo to Tel Aviv

Jewish colonies and settlements. Tel Aviv. Car...

Jewish colonies and settlements. Tel Aviv. Carrying bricks. Digitized from 1 negative : glass, stereograph, dry plate ; 5 x 7 in. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ben Gurion 2

One of the most successful stories of the State of Israel in the early years was agriculture. We heard of the kibbutzim and the moshavim and how Israel became a fruit and flower producer of world renown. Even more amazing was the ingenuity of the irrigation system that transformed dry landscapes like the Negev into agricultural oases, often using biblical models.

As African nations emerged from colonialism in the 60s, they sought ties with Israel which provided expertise in agriculture. Nevertheless, this changed in the early 70s because of various factors. Among them were Arab pressure to African nations in exchange for oil and financial aid, the Six Day War when Israel occupied the West Bank, and the thorny relationship between Israel and apartheid South Africa. Following the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, 29 African nations severed relations with Israel en masse. Only Lesotho, Swaziland and Malawi – three small countries – in sub-Sahara Africa did not sever relations.

That was very much the situation when I first went to Israel to study at the Swedish Theological Institute except that Egypt had signed a peace treaty with Israel in the Camp David Accords. The only way I could fly directly from Africa was from Cairo – which I did, regretted, and swore never to repeat it, and never did!

I could have flown from Kilimanjaro to Athens, or Rome or Copenhagen, or Frankfurt then directly to Tel Aviv. Indeed, those were my original plans, but somehow I ended up taking Ethiopian Airlines to Cairo. There were stopovers in Addis Ababa and Khartoum and we were shadowed by military jets in rebel-troubled Eritrea air space.

But the real nightmare was in Cairo.

First, we had to surrender our passports. I am assuming “we”, not just me or any other passengers heading to Tel Aviv. Secondly, for security reasons – a fact learned but not announced – flights to Tel Aviv were kept secret until boarding time. So, there I was, at the airport, sweltering in the Egyptian heat and humidity, without air conditioning, and with no known time of departure.

That waiting lasted six hours! Six hours of drama, and when miraculously the announcement came: “Flight to Tel Aviv, Departure Gate G” what followed was a modern day re-enactment of the Hebrews’  hurried departure from Egypt almost 3500 years earlier..