Israel independence day | When El Al flew to Tehran and other historical tidbits

1. Iran was an ally

Iran and Israel enjoyed mostly good relations until the Islamic revolution that overthrew the shah in 1979. Iran recognized Israel in 1950, becoming the second Muslim-majority country to do so (after Turkey). Iran supplied Israel with oil during the OPEC oil embargo, Israel sold Iran weapons, and El Al flew regular flights between Tel Aviv and Tehran. All that ended a week after the shah’s ouster, when Iran’s new rulers cut ties with Israel and transferred its embassy in Tehran to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

2. Home to Nazi heirs

At least 400 descendants of Nazis have converted to Judaism and moved to Israel, according to filmmakers who made a documentary about the phenomenon several years ago. In addition, others converted to Judaism or married Israelis but do not live in the Jewish state — such as Heinrich Himmler’s great-niece, who married an Israeli Jew and lives overseas.

3. ‘Ben-Gurion’s rice’ 

Israeli couscous was invented in the 1950s at the behest of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who asked the Osem food company to come up with a wheat-based substitute for rice during a period of austerity in Israel. The invention, which Israelis dubbed “Ben-Gurion’s rice,” was an instant hit.

4. No TV till the ‘60s

The first Israeli TV transmission took place in 1966, and at first was intended only for schools for educational use. Regular public broadcasts began on Israel Indepen-dence Day in May 1968. For almost two decades more, Israel had only one channel, and broadcasts were limited to specific hours of the day. A second channel debuted in 1986, and cable was introduced in 1990.

5. A princess in Jerusalem

Prince Philip’s mother, born in 1885 as Princess Alice of Battenberg, spent much of her life in Greece after marrying Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. During the Nazi occupation of Greece, Alice hid a Jewish woman and two of her children from the Nazis, earning her eventual recognition by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as Righteous Among Nations and by the British government as a “Hero of the Holocaust.” She moved to London in 1967 to live in Buckingham Palace with her son and daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II. She died in 1969. In 1988, her body was transferred to a crypt at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, honoring a wish she had expressed before her death.

6. Alaska Airlines’ airlift

When anti-Jewish riots broke out in Yemen after Israel’s victory in the 1948 War of Independence, Yemen’s Jewish community decided to move en masse to the Jewish homeland. James Wooten, president of Alaska Airlines, was among those moved by their plight. Between June 1949 and September 1950, Alaska Airlines made approximately 430 flights as part of Operation Magic Carpet, the secret mission that transported nearly 50,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel.

7. Early role model

Golda Meir was the world’s third female prime minster. Elected Israeli prime minister in 1969 at the age of 70, she was preceded only by Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka (1960-65) and Indira Ghandi of India (1966-77). Born in Kiev and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Meir moved to a kibbutz in her early 20s and quickly became active in Labor politics.

8. An early solar leader

Israeli law began requiring solar water heaters in all new homes in 1980. The law was passed following the energy crisis of the late ‘70s and made Israel the world’s leader in the use of solar energy per capita. Today, an estimated 85 percent of Israeli households use solar systems for hot water, amounting to some 3 percent of the nation’s energy consumption. However, Israel lags behind other countries in implementing other solar energy solutions, and a growing number of new buildings utilize legal loopholes that provide exemptions to the solar heater law.

9. Mount Scopus status

Though situated in eastern Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, where Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital have campuses, has been in Israeli hands since the state’s founding. After the 1948 War of Indepen-dence, the hilltop was controlled by Jews but surrounded by Jordan-controlled eastern Jerusalem. Israel maintained its Mount Scopus exclave by ferrying in troops and supplies every two weeks under United Nations guard. Mount Scopus was reunited with the rest of Jewish Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War.

10. Einstein as president?

Albert Einstein was offered the presidency by David Ben-Gurion in November 1952 in the days after the death of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann. Einstein turned down the invitation, citing his advanced age and ineptitude at dealing with people.