'Cuban pilots flew 150,000 Jews from Arab states to Israel'
By JPOST.COM STAFF
Report: From 1951-1953, Cuban company set up by Cuban businessman and Israeli flew missions where Israeli planes could not.
In the first years of the state, Cuban planes and pilots brought nearly 150,000 Jews to Israel from Iraq, Iran, Yemen and India, the official Cuban newspaper Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) reported on Saturday. Unreported for 60 years, the airlift was one of the largest in history.
In the years after Israel declared independence, Jews in Arab countries began emigrating to Israel as their lives became more difficult. However, due to the lack of cooperation by the Arab governments, traveling by land was very difficult. Since there were no diplomatic relations between Israel and the Arab countries, it was necessary for the aircraft to be from a neutral country, according to the Juvente Rebelde report.
The Cuban connection stemmed from someone in the Israeli trade mission in New York's close friendship with Cuban businessman Narciso Otero-Roselló, a licensed pilot, according to the report. The businessman became president of new air company, Aerea de Cuba, which took ownership of the aircraft to be used in the years-long airlift and established offices in Havana and Nicosia in Cyprus.
The Cuban pilots who flew the planes on the historic mission recalled several close calls to Juvente Rebelde. They told of dust storms suffocating their engines in Iraq, making stops on desolate airstrips in Oman when making the long flights from India to Israel, emergency landings, and crashes while transporting Jews to Israel.
In early 1953, when their special mission was completed, the pilots returned to Cuba, Juvente Rebelde reported. This newly discovered chapter in Jewish and Israeli history shows how far-off countries assisted the Jewish people in the building of the state of Israel.