Thursday, July 31, 2008

Veteran journalist who witnessed 'Magic carpet'

Tom Segev has written this Haaretz profile of remarkable veteran journalist Ruth Gruber, now in her 97th year. Gruber covered the story of the evacuation of the Jews from Yemen, Operation Magic Carpet. She continued to defend their interests once they had arrived in Israel:

On November 8, 1949, The New York Herald Tribune revealed that tens of thousands of Jews had been moved dramatically from Yemen to the then British colony of Aden, and were flown to Israel from there. The operation bore the legendary name "Magic Carpet." The immigrants themselves prefer to describe the event with a biblical image: "On the wings of eagles."

Israel's military censor only permitted publication of the operation's details once they were published abroad. The scoop belonged to U.S. reporter Ruth Gruber, who had been invited to join one of the flights from Yemen as the guest of the Joint Distribution Committee. A disagreement arose as to whether she had been invited to write "for publication," or only "for background" information. Nearly 60 years later, it is still important for her to stress that she did not break the story before having received explicit permission to do so.

Gruber is one of the world's most veteran journalists, perhaps even the most veteran: She will turn 97 in two months. Lucid, opinionated, vivacious and blessed with a sense of humor, she gives the impression that she is telling her stories for the first time - about how she got to Aden and decided to proceed to Yemen; how they told her that she was crazy, apparently with good reason, when she insisted on risking her life and heading for the desert to meet the Jews who had left their villages. Gruber will never forget the Torah scrolls they carried with them or how hard the journey was. "We are thirsty," they told her, and she chastised herself for not having taken some water along. One gains the impression that she is still agonizing over this even today. And no, it's not true what they say about Yemenite Jews: that they lit cooking fires on the plane during the flight to Israel.

Gruber followed their integration into Israeli society and was appalled. The newly arrived immigrants were lodged in army tents. Speaking this week, she said: "Armies always think 'tents.'" When she saw immigrants sinking to their knees in the mud, she demanded to see then prime minister David Ben-Gurion. She scolded him because she said Jews have no right to keep people in tents, not after what they had suffered. B-G claimed that before her, no one had told him about the harsh conditions in the camps, and he asked her to write him a report.

Read article in full


Anonymous said...

Occasionally, Al-CBC Radio News (the Canadian equivalent of the Al-BBC)broadcasts stories filed by Ruth. I had no idea of her age.

bataween said...

Dear loyal readers of Point of No Return,
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