Naftali Aklum, the real-life brother of the star of Netflix’s hit film The Red Sea Diving Resort, based on the covert Mossad operation to rescue Ethiopian Jews via an idyllic holiday resort in Sudan, spoke at ORT House and then gave his views to the Jewish Chronicle. Read the full story below, or here via the JC.
The story behind The Red Sea Diving Resort, a Netflix movie based on the covert Mossad operation to rescue Ethiopian Jews via an idyllic holiday resort in Sudan, is almost too far-fetched to believe.
But for Naftali Aklum, the real-life brother of one of the film’s Ethiopian protagonists, it missed the real story — the determination of Ethiopian Jews to preserve their faith for two millennia before risking their lives to make aliyah.
The role of Kabede Bimro, played by Michael K Williams of The Wire fame, is based on Farede Aklum, a teacher-turned-secret agent who helped to mastermind the first exodus of Ethiopian Jews to Israel via Sudan.
This took place some years before Mossad devised a plan in the early 1980s to smuggle stranded Jews to Israel via the Arous resort — a fully-functioning beachfront hotel which served as a cover for the operation.
Speaking to the JC ahead of a talk he delivered at London’s ORT House on Thursday, he said: “I speak about him a lot. And every time I say the things I say, I’m amazed at the things he did.
“I want people to know the story of Ethiopian Jews because it’s an amazing story. How they kept Judaism, and how they arrived in Ethiopia and came to Israel, their lives in Israel in the early days.
“For Ethiopian Jews to be in Israel — I don’t know how to explain it. We didn’t escape Ethiopia because of economic problems or security problems. Our parents just saw an opportunity to fulfil a dream of 2,500 years to return to Zion.
“Many people just left behind their house, their land. No-one promised them they would make it. And they went to Sudan, many people died on the way.
“What we don’t see in the movie was the journey of the Ethiopian Jews. They walked something like 300 miles in the desert. It was a big, big thing. I was six months old when my family did the journey. There were old people aged 70 or 80. We lost 4,000 people out of 20,000 that left the villages.
“When a lot of people in my community saw the movie, they thought it was again maintaining the narrative of the white saviour. They didn’t understand if they showed the other side it would have been much stronger.”
WATCH: The trailer for Netflix’s The Red Sea Diving Resort
In 1977, a secret deal was struck between Ethiopia’s government and Israel — in exchange for arms and military expertise, Ethiopia’s Jews would be allowed to covertly leave the country in airlifts.
But when Moshe Dayan, then Israel’s foreign minister, revealed the existence of the plans to the public a year later, Ethiopia’s leaders reneged.
A crackdown on the leaders of the country’s Jewish community followed — and Farede Aklum found himself a wanted man.
Fleeing, he made the long journey to Khartoum on foot, later sending pleading letters to Israeli government agents.
It was in Khartoum where, while hiding his identity as a Jew, Farede Aklum hatched the plan with Mossad agent Danny Limor to evacuate Ethiopians.
His family — including an infant Naftali Aklum, 30 years Farede’s junior — were among the first to reach Israel.
Naftali said: “It was only when I was 18 … when we realised my brother was the one who brought the Ethiopian Jews from Sudan to Israel.”
Farede Aklum would later die mysteriously on a business trip to Addis Ababa in 2009, when he was 60.
Naftali has pledged to establish a foundation in his brother’s memory, which will provide scholarships for Ethiopian-Israelis to attend school and university.
It was inspired by Farede’s lifelong love of teaching, having trained as an educator and later working for the charitable ORT education network.
Naftali said: “First, we have to be proud of who we are — especially the young generation. I just want people to know their history and be proud of it.”