New phase of Ethiopian aliyah commences as nation declares state of emergency

Israeli Knesset Member Omer Bar Lev (Zionist Union) has called for an emergency government operation to bring the remaining Falash Mura Ethiopian Jews out of Africa to Israel.

“The bloody war occurring in Ethiopia right now threatens the lives of many people. One of our people has already been killed, and an end to the conflict still isn’t on the horizon,” said Bar Lev referring to the current wave of violence raging in Ethiopia and the death of Weta Chekla, an Ethiopian Jew who was waiting to immigrate to Israel.

Indeed, on Sunday, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn declared a state of emergency in his country.

Well before the state of emergency, the Israeli government decided in April to allow 9,000 Ethiopian Jews to immigrate to Israel by 2020. The first phase was to bring 1,300 immigrants by June this year, but until Sunday none had arrived.

“Now the order of the day has changed and the government’s apathy is unacceptable,” Bar Lev insisted.

On Sunday a flight from Ethiopia of 63 immigrants arrived in Israel.

The International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem (ICEJ) has given more than $500,000 to Keren Hayesod, a national fundraising institution that works with the government, to help pay for the flights and absorption of 523 of the Ethiopian Jews and is raising money for the entire first phase group of immigrants.

“These are people who are endangered by tribal conflicts and unrest while also suffering through times of severe drought and flooding,” Dr. Jürgen Bühler, the ICEJ Executive Director, stated in a press release. “But now they will be lifted out of difficult and impoverished conditions, and finally be reunited with their families already in Israel.”

David Parsons, ICEJ spokesman, told KNI: “We are supporting the aliyah (immigration to Israel) of these particular Ethiopian Jews as a humanitarian gesture to reunite many families who have been separated over recent years between Israel and Ethiopia.”

In modern times the first Jews from Ethiopia arrived in Mandate Palestine in 1934. According to tradition, Ethiopian Jews descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. It is understood they practice the Jewish faith as it was observed before Solomon’s Temple was destroyed 2,500 years ago.

Ethiopian Jews, however, have faced difficulties integrating into the Jewish state and have leveled accusations that racism in Israeli society is responsible for undermining their success as well as delaying Ethiopian immigration that was authorized this spring.

According to Haaretz, an unsigned complaint posted on the Little Ethiopia Israel-based news site, asserted, “Wherever white Jews are to be found, the government shows its attentiveness in every possible way, from sending delegates to calling for immediate aliyah. But it’s a different story in the case of the Beita Israel (Amharic-language designation of the Falash Mura, meaning ‘the House of Israel’).”

While delays in approved Ethiopian immigration are disconcerting, especially considering the current escalation in violence, Israel has historically gone to spectacular lengths to bring its “non-white” people here.

History of Ethiopian Aliyah

The Israeli government is well versed in airlift operations of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In 1991 the Israeli military pulled off Operation Solomon, a remarkable and joyous feat. In just 36 hours 14,325 Falash Mura Jews were airlifted out of Africa on 35 planes including Israeli Air Force C-130s. Seats were pulled out of EL AL Boeing 747 aircraft to accommodate more people, and five babies were born on board the flights.

Operation Solomon overshadowed Operation Moses of 1984, during which Israel brought out around 8,000 Ethiopian Jews from famine-ridden Sudan. Operations Solomon and Moses were part of the third (1975-1990) and fourth (1990 – 1999) waves of Jewish immigration from Ethiopia.

Moreover, just after Israel’s War of Independence, around 49,000 Yemenite Jews were airlifted to Israel in Operation On Wings of Eagles between June 1949 and September 1950. The operation involved American and British planes making 380 flights from Aden.

While institutional racism cannot be excused, there are signs of progress in this respect: two Israeli-Ethiopian lawyers, Esther Tapeta Gradi and Adenko Sabhat Haimovich, were recently appointed as judges for the first time in the nation’s history.

“We believe aliyah has been a source of strength for the nation of Israel, and is vital to its future,” Parsons said.

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