Definitions

demanded from

Aliyah from Ethiopia

The Jewish aliyah from Ethiopia began during the mid-1970s, during which the majority of the Jewish Ethiopians immigrated to Israel.

Aliyah from Ethiopia compared to the total Aliyah to Israel
Years Ethiopian-born
Immigrants
Total Immigration
to Israel
1948-1951 10 687,624
1952-1960 59 297,138
1961-1971 98 427,828
1972-1979 306 267,580
1980-1989 16,965 153,833
1990-1999 39,651 956,319
2000-2004 14,859 181,505
2005 3,573 21,180
2006 3,595 19,269

The eligibility of the Jewish Ethiopians to immigrate to Israel

In 1973 the Israeli Ministry of Absorption prepared a comprehensive report on the Beta Israel ethnicity (The historical name of the Jewish Ethiopian community) in which was written that the falashes (a nickname which the ethnicity had during that period) were foreign in all aspects, to the Jewish nation. The conclusions were, that there is no need to take action in order to help the ethnicity immigrate to the state of Israel. It was also stated in the report that "the falashes, in the opinion of objective scientific researchers, are a part of the people that compound the population of Ethiopia. and by the ethnic and cultural aspects they are an essential part of with Ethiopia."

About a month after the advertising of the Ministry of Absorption report in 1973, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Sephardi chief rabbi, decreed that the community of "Beta Israel" are a descendant tribe of Israel, who had traveled as far as Africa. He also said that giving them a proper Jewish education and the right to immigrate to Israel, in his definition, was a Mitzvah of a saving their souls. On the other side, Shlomo Goren, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, said that the Jewish Ethiopians are not the descendants of the Tribe of Dan and he said that there was an apprehension that bastards existed amongst them and also an apprehension to them being assimilated between the non-Jewish through the years. Ovadia Yosef's Halakha ruling ended with the Law of Return being accepted upon the community, notwithstanding the Ministry of Absorption report and notwithstanding the position of the Ashkenazi chief rabbinate. In order to bring the Beta Israel community to Israel, an inter office staff was founded, which included representatives from the Israeli Justice Department, Israeli Ministry of Interior, Israeli Ministry of Absorption and the Jewish Agency for Israel. This action was mainly promoted after the election of Menachem Begin as prime minister in 1977.

The first Ethiopian Jewish immigration wave

By the mid-1970s, a severe mass hunger broke over Ethiopia, which got the Ethiopian government asking for help from the Western world, including Israel, and in this form the government eventually allowed the Jewish Ethiopians to immigrate to Israel.

In the absence of full diplomatic relations with Ethiopia, The Israeli Mossad contacted officials in Sudan, which is adjacent to Ethiopia. Thousands of Jews from Ethiopia traveled by foot to the border with Sudan, and waited there in temporary camps until they were flown to Israel. Between the years 1977 and 1984, these immigrants were lead from those camps to Israel by means of vessels of the Israeli Sea Corps and airplanes. Until operation Moses, about 8,000 arrived in Israel in a dangerous journey in which about 4,000 Jews, at least, perished from plagues, hunger and murderous attacks of robbers.

Operation Moses

After it became clear that the immigrants who stayed at the camps in Sudan were in danger, it was decided on their intense immigration, in "Operation Moses", during which about 8,000 immigrants were brought to Israel from Ethiopia by means of Israeli airplanes. Most of the immigrants in Operation Moses originated from the Gondar area.

The long walks of families and little children took them whole months at times. As a result of the difficulties of the way and the bad conditions, hundreds and possibly even thousands of Jewish Ethiopians died on the way to the camps on the border with Sudan. One of the main activists amongst the Ethiopians was Frada Aklom, whom many perceive as an important character from the Beta Israel ethnicity during the modern times.

The operation ended prematurly, after a leakage to the press in Israel about the immigration of the Jewish Ethiopians through Sudan to Israel. After the media exposure to the operation which was kept until then secretly, the political situation of that area changed. Sudan ruler, which beforehand let the Jews into his country on their way to Israel, was dismissed, and the relations between Israel and Sudan rose aground.

After that, more Jews were brought over: 1,200 in the Operation Sheba and 800 more on Operation Joshua that took place in 1985, with the help of George H. W. Bush, who was vice president of the United States at that time.

After Operation Moses ceased by the end of 1985, the chief rabbinate demanded from all the immigrants to pass "severity conversion" (גיור לחומרה) before they would be considered Jews.

The ceremony, which included a submersion and bloodletting of the brit, was meant for the cases in which there existed a big doubt about an immigrant belonging to Judaism. Therefore, the demand evoked a big resentment amongst the Jews of Beta Israel, who kept their Judaism in spite of persecutions and threats for hundreds of years. In the demands of the rabbinate, there was also a form of insult to the trustworthiness of the Ethiopian religious supervision over the people within the community who converted to Christianity. After a demonstration in front of "Hiechal Shlomo" and meetings with the chief rabbi, Avraham Shapira, the rabbinate decided to be satisfied with only a submersion be made and give up the bloodletting, which was customarily in the "severity conversions" in the cases in which there exists a little doubt about the origin of the immigrant.

Operation Solomon

In the beginning of 1991, the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia was about to collapse due to the rebel forces approaching the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. In the end of May 1991, several days before Addis Ababa was seized by the rebels, Mengistu escaped from Ethiopia and found shelter in Zimbabwe. An agreement was obtained between officials from Mengistu's government and Israel allowing the Ethiopian Jews to immigrate to Israel in exchange for about 35 million US dollars and shelter in the United States for several of the officials of the government.

Due to this agreement, "Operation Solomon" took place, during which about 14,400 Jews were brought to Israel within 34 hours on May 24, 1991, in about 30 airplanes of the Israeli Air Force and the El Al company.

The Falash Mura

There are many descendants of Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity who are now returning to the practice of Judaism. This group of people is known as the Falash Mura. They are admitted entrance to Israel, although not as Jews, thus enabling the Israeli government to set quotas to their immigration and make citizenship dependent on Orthodox conversion. Although nobody knows for certain what the exact population is of the Falash Mura in Ethiopia, many say it is roughly 20,000-26,000 individuals. However, recently some reporters and other travelers in remote regions of Ethiopia have noted that they have found entire villages where people claim they are Jewish or are Falash Mura (Jews who have been practicing Christianity). Chief Kes Raphael Hadane has argued for the acceptance of the Falasha Mura as Jews.

The challenges of the absorption in Israel

The biggest concentrations of the Ethiopians Jews are in the cities: Beersheba, Dimona, Mitzpe Ramon, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Lod, Ramla, Or Yehuda, Jerusalem, Netanya, Kiryat Mal'akhi. One of the most famous incidents connected to the relation towards the ethnicity was the annihilation of all blood donations given by any Ethiopian Jews back in 1996, when Magen David Adom annihilated all blood donations given by immigrants from Ethiopia in Israel, as a strict policy without the Ethiopian donor's knowledge.

A report done by Bank of Israel in the year 2006 demonstrates worrying information concerning the absorption of the Ethiopian ethnicity in Israel :

  • The incidence of the poverty amongst families of the ethnicity is estimated in about 51.7% compared with 15.8% in the general Israeli population.
  • The rate of the participation in the work market is about 65.7% amongst adults compared with about 82.5% in the general Israeli population.
  • The rate of the unemployment amongst the ethnicity is estimated at about 13.2% compared with 7.4% in the general Israeli population.
  • The monthly income per capita is estimated at about 1994 shekels amongst the ethnicity compared with about 3947 shekels in the general Israeli population.
  • Students entitled the Bagrut Certification amongst students is estimated in about 44% compared with about 57% in the Israeli youth population. Only about 34% meet the requirements needed for academic studies, compared with about 83% from the Israeli youth population.
  • About 21.7% of the ethnicity are holders of middle and academic education, compared with about 49.2% in the general Israeli population. About 20.4% of the ethnicity are not holders of a basic education, compared with about 0.9% from the general Israeli population.
  • In the school year of 2002-2003, the rate of criminal cases which opened to the 12-20 year olds from the youth of the ethnicity stood at 4.6%, which is twice as much as the criminal cases opened against the Israeli youth.

The report done by Bank of Israel also shows a lot of mistakes made in the way the governmental investment on the absorption of the ethnicity. And this is in spite of the cost of the governmental accumulative absorption, which is estimated at above 400,000 shekels for each of the immigrants who came to Israel during the Solomon operation. In addition to the governmental financial investments, money was also invested from donations, and money taken from the welfare support system of the local authorities, the existence of Affirmative action to the ethnicity in the Israeli army and in the Israeli universities. The report recommends taking measures to scattering the people of the ethnicity throughout the country and mainly in the more based villages and neighborhoods rather than those they were sent to. In addition, it is also recommended to enlarge the resources which the schools which a lot of the are sent to. Lastly, the report recommends expanding the arrangement of professional training to the ethnicity and to consider an affirmative action when combining them in the public service.

References

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