Lt. “Yod” will become the Israeli Air Force’s first pilot of Ethiopian heritage upon completing the military’s prestigious pilots course later this week, the army said Tuesday.
As with all pilots, the airman’s name cannot be released out of security concerns. He can only be referred to by his rank and the first Hebrew letter of his name.
On Wednesday, following the commencement ceremony for the pilots course, Yod will begin serving as a navigator on IAF fighter jets, the Israel Defense Forces said, confirming a report on Army Radio.
While some Ethiopian Jews emigrated to Israel in the 1960s and 1970s, most of the community was flown into the Jewish state in the mid-1980s and early 1990s in Operation Moses and Operation Solomon, respectively. Today, over 125,000 people of Ethiopian heritage live in Israel.
The Ethiopian community’s comparatively slow absorption into Israeli society has been attributed to cultural misunderstandings, as well as allegations of racism.
Within the military, Ethiopian Israelis have been slow to rise through the ranks.
In 2016, Dr. Avraham Yitzhak took over as chief medical officer of the army’s Southern Command, becoming the first Israeli of Ethiopian heritage to hold the rank of colonel in the IDF.
Yitzhak was born in Ethiopia and moved to Israel in 1994. In addition to being the first Ethiopian colonel in the military, he was also the first IDF doctor of Ethiopian heritage.
Yitzhak moved to Israel from Ethiopia at the age of 19, after he had already started medical school in Addis Ababa, according to a 2010 profile by the Israel Hayom newspaper.
Once in Israel, he applied to Israeli universities and opted to study in Ben Gurion University’s medical program. Upon graduating, he began his IDF service as an army surgeon, first in the Paratroopers Brigade and then in the elite Maglan unit, which operates deep behind enemy lines.
During the Second Lebanon War, Yitzhak served in the Nahal Brigade. On the last day of the fighting, he was wounded by shrapnel and forced to return to Israel for treatment.
He served as a surgeon in three Gaza operations — 2008-2009’s Operation Cast Lead, 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense and 2014’s Operation Protective Edge — before taking over as head of the Medical Corps’ operational medicine department.