falash mura 298 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The last of the Falash Mura who meet the criteria for immigrating to Israel will be brought here by the second half of 2008, a government representative told the High Court of Justice on Sunday.
But a group of petitioners, including the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry organization, charged that Israel was refusing to consider applications from an additional 8,000 Falash Mura living in villages in the Gondar area even though they also meet the government's criteria for immigrating to Israel.
One of the lawyers representing the petitioners, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, accused the government of not granting these Falash Mura due process and failing to give them equal treatment compared to immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
A panel of three justices headed by Ayala Procaccia heard the petition and said it would rule at a later date.
The crux of the dispute between the government and the petitioners has to do with a cabinet resolution passed on February 15, 2003. According to the state's representative, Attorney Yochi Gnessin, the government undertook in that decision to bring to Israel up to 17,188 members of the Falash Mura community concentrated in two camps, one in Addis Ababa and the other in Gondar province. This, on condition that the families met the criteria of uninterrupted lineage on their mother's side from a woman who was Jewish before the community converted to Christianity.
The petitioners, on the other hand, argued that in its decision, the government undertook to bring to Israel every Jew [according to the above definition) remaining in Ethiopia.
The petition was originally filed in 2003. At that time, it was aimed primarily at the allegedly slow pace at which the government was implementing its decision. Not long after the government decided to bring the Falash Mura, new elections were held. New interior minister Avraham Poraz decided to limit the number of immigrants brought to Israel to 300 per month.
According to Gnessin, the last of the Falash Mura living in the Adis Ababa camp came to Israel three months ago. There are currently 7,048 Falash Mura in the Gondar camp who are currently being examined to see if they qualify for immigration.
The petitioners are still complaining about the slow pace of immigration. But the main thrust of their argument now is that the government refuses to examine 8,000 other Falash Mura whom, they maintain, also meet the criteria. Rabbi Menachem Waldman told the court that in 1999, he and Ya'acov Efrati, the former Interior Ministry director-general drew up the list of all the eligible Falash Mura living in the villages. He said there were 11,000 names on the list, but about 3,000 of them had moved into the Gondar camp and were currently being processed. He added that the 8,000 still outside the Gondar camp are just as eligible to immigrate to Israel as those inside the camp.
In a related development, Interior Ministry official Baruch Danon is due to fly to Ethiopia in a day or two to supervise the distribution of letters of rejection to 385 families from the Adis Ababa camp who did not meet the government's criteria. There has been criticism as to why the government waited until the end to inform the families of their rejection. But Gnessin explained that this had been done at the request of the Ethiopian government, which feared that there might be outbreaks of violence if the families had been told earlier. She also explained that the families living in Israel of those who had been rejected were informed three weeks ago of the government's decision.