A revealing BBC documentary shows how an elaborate Mossad hoax, a British businessman and a seasoned diplomat came together to rescue 20,000 Ethiopian Jews in what has been described as “one of the greatest humanitarian acts of the 20th century”, writes Francine Wolfisz.

Now the full details of how Lord David Alliance, Uri Lubrani and former Mossad operative Gad Shimron assisted in a series of mass-airlifts of the ‘lost tribe’ from Sudan to Israel is revealed in Saving The Forgotten Jews, which airs on Sunday.

The 30-minute film explains how in the late 1970s, Lord Alliance, then a little-known textiles entrepreneur with links to East Africa, received a call from two Israeli diplomats asking for his help in rescuing the Ethiopian Jews.

ETHIOPIAFaced with persecution, civil war and famine, thousands of Jews were fleeing their native Ethiopia, where the community had lived for 2,000 years, over the border to Sudan.

Lord Alliance risked his life to set up a fake office in Khartoum, which was then used by Mossad as a base for operating behind enemy lines.

From there, they set up a sham holiday resort in Sudan, which they used as a rendezvous point with Israeli Air Force planes, filling them with refugees.

When famine hit Sudan in 1984, the authorities needed to step-up their efforts and did so through two covert airlifts, Operation Moses and later, Operation Solomon.

The latter involved the transportation of an incredible 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in just 36 hours.

One eyewitness, Fanta Prada, described the scramble of refugees and elation of getting on a plane: “I rushed so quickly, I didn’t even put my shoes on. I came to Israel barefoot. No words can describe the emotions on what we felt that day.”

At one time there were 28 planes in the sky together. One plane took 1,088 people on board, a figure that remains an aviation record to this day.

Former Mossad operative, Gad Shimron said: “The planes were so heavy, they made lanes in the tarmac of Addis Ababa.”

He added: “I’ve done many things in my career, but nothing compares to this.”

Describing the rescue mission as “impressive and admirable”, producer Richard Pearson said he was intrigued by “how far people would go in rescuing others at a time when East Africa was not the top of people’s agendas.”

He added: “It’s a very poignant story given the severe refugee issues we are witnessing at the moment.”

Saving The Forgotten Jews airs on Sunday, 1.15pm on BBC One