Join the Machal Mailing List
Who's Online
Now 1 guest online

Purity of Arms

Total Views: 6958
Operation Magic Carpet  E-mail

“On The Wings of Eagles.”

Operation Magic Carpet is a nickname for the operation “On The Wings of Eagles.” This operation took place between June 1949 and September 1950 and brought over 46,000 Yemenite Jews to the newborn State of Israel.

Following the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947, Muslim rioters engaged in clashes in Aden, killing 82 people and destroying a number of Jewish homes.  In early 1948 accusations of the murder of two Muslim Yemeni girls led to the looting of Jewish property.  Aden’s Jewish community was economically paralyzed, since most of the Jewish stores and businesses were destroyed.

In response to an increasingly perilous situation, most of the Yemenite-Jewish community secretly emigrated to Israel between June 1949 and September 1950 in Operation Magic Carpet.  This was made possible by British and American transport planes which made some 380 flights from Aden in a secret operation that was only made public several months after it had taken place.

Operation Magic Carpet: Challenges, Dangers. and Inspiration
as recalled by two former Magic Carpet Pilots, Stanley Epstein and Bob Maguire

Stanley “Buddy” Epstein says he is not a religious man, but Operation Magic Carpet” had to have been blessed by God because the possibility of any of these airplanes being successful was pretty remote.”

Epstein, a pilot and maintenance specialist, was airlifting supplies from Czechoslovakia to Israel, and when that operation ended, he contracted with Alaska Airlines to help with “Operation Magic Carpet.”

“We flew almost continuously from Christmas Eve 1948 to nearly a year later, and never lost a life or had an injury from an accident.  One airplane undershot the runway in Asmara, but it didn’t burn, even though it was loaded with gasoline barrels.  We had a few bullet holes.”  

Epstein noted that the C-46 aircraft were carrying 76 passengers per trip – nearly 30 more than licensed for, based on the average passenger weight and the number of aircraft exits.  And the DC-4s, licensed to carry 60 passengers, were flying with 150 Yemenite Jews per trip.

Epstein said the danger and logistical hurdles that had to be overcome were at the top of his mind at every turn. But the plight of the Jews is what drove everyone to keep going forward.  “For the English-speaking volunteers in Israel, the story of the Jews from Yemen was just another amazing story of the ingathering of the Jewish People in their homeland.  If there was a single reason felt by all of the English-speaking flight crews and other volunteers, it was a feeling of “never again” after the press and other news media dramatically revealed the stories of the Holocaust.”

Stanley “Buddy” Epstein was a Machal volunteer from the U.S.A. who served as a pilot in Air Transport Command.  He passed away in January 2009.

Source:  Wikipedia, Dr. Jason Fenton (Machalnik from USA),


Excerpts from the obituary/article by Margalit Fox which appeared in the New York Times on 18th June 2006
Robert Francis Maguire Jr. was born in Portland, Oregon on 7th January 1911.    He began flying as a teenager, later attending Reed College and the University of Oregon.  He enlisted in the  Army Air Corps the day after Pearl Harbor and flew in the Pacific region in the war.

After the war, Maguire became a pilot for Alaska Airlines.  With the creation of the State of Israel in May 1948, the airline won a contract to fly Jewish refugees there from around the globe.  Mr. Maguire flew thousands of Jews out of Shanghai before being sent to the Middle East to help start Operation Magic Carpet in conjunction with the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, a humanitarian organization.

An ancient nomadic people,  Yemenite Jews had been oppressed since the advent of Islam in the eighth century.  But their deliverance into Israel was prophesied in a line from the Book of Isaiah: “They shall mount up with wings as eagles.”

When news of the planned evacuation reached them, they walked, sometimes hundreds of miles, carrying bibles and Torah scrolls, until they reached a refugee camp at the British protectorate of Aden, on the  southern tip of Yemen.

The pilots left each morning from their base in Asmara, Eritrea, and landed at Aden to pick up passengers.  Few of the Yemenite Jews had ever seen an airplane.  But the airline painted an eagle with outstretched wings over the door of each craft, and the Yemenites went aboard.

The flight from Yemen to Israel, a journey of more than 1,400 miles, was almost entirely over hostile territory.  Though the evacuation was kept secret for fear of sabotage, the planes were routinely fired on by Egyptian forces.  Fuel was scarce.  Pilots were warned that if they were forced to land in enemy territory, the passengers and perhaps the crew risked being executed.

As many as 28 pilots at a time were involved in this operation, which involved carrying the refugees to Tel Aviv, flying back to the safety of Cyprus for the night and then reaching Asmara at dawn, before starting over again, a round trip of about 20 hours.

When Alaska Airlines had to withdraw after a few months into the operation, Maguire started his own company, Near East Air Transport, and hired planes and pilots to continue the job.  David Ben-Gurion was reported to have called Robert Maguire “the Irish Moses.”

In Operation Magic Carpet, Maguire relied as much on his wits as on his aviation skills.  He once ran out of fuel and was forced to land in Egypt.  When airport officials rushed up to the plane, Maguire ordered them to send ambulances immediately.  “What for? ” they asked him.  “I have smallpox on board,” Maguire replied.  He got his fuel, and flew on to Tel Aviv.

Robert Maguire Jr. passed away  on 10th June 2006

Researcher’s notes:
1.    Dr. Mary Gordon and Dr. George Mundell (both from South Africa)  served as medical officers in this operation..
2.    Lou Lenart (U.S.A.) was one of the pilots in this operation.