In a historic decision on Sunday the cabinet unanimously approved the continued immigration of some 7,846 Falash Mura, Ethiopians of Jewish descent, who have been waiting in inhumane conditions, some for more than a decade, for the government to allow them access to Israel.

“All the people here have been fasting and praying that the Israeli government will allow them to make aliya,” Gatu Zemene, Director of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ)-run compound in the Northern Ethiopian city of Gondar, where most of the Falash Mura have been waiting.

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“People here are now finally hopeful that they will be able to come to the State of Israel,” Zemene told The Jerusalem Post by telephone.

“We are delighted that the Prime Minister and the government have finally found a solution to this tragedy that has continued for more than 20 years,” said Dr. Avraham Neguise, Executive Director of South Wing to Zion, a grass-roots organization that has been lobbying the government to not abandon the Falash Mura but to allow them to immigrate. “It is a historical decision and will change the lives of thousands of people waiting to come to Israel.”

He added: “We hope the government takes care of it as quickly as possible and does not drag this process out any longer. We will continue to fight until we see every last person in Israel.”

In a statement released after the government decision was announced, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said: “The government of Israel seeks to resolve this problem because there is indeed a complex humanitarian crisis there and so as to avoid the creation of additional refugee camps in Ethiopia.”

“From my perspective, this closes a cycle because during my first term as Prime Minister, I brought approximately 5,000 Falash Mura to Israel and today we are discussing an agreed-upon arrangement with all of the relevant bodies, and there are many, so that we might finally resolve this painful and complicated problem,” continued Netanyahu, adding “We have a moral commitment as Jews, as the People of Israel, to find a solution.”

According to the decision approved, the state has three months to bring an initial 700 already-approved Falash Mura to Israel and to wrap up by August 2011 the Interior Ministry’s eligibility checks of all 7,846 people who claim they fit into earlier criteria that would allow them to immigrate under a special clause in the Law of Entry.

In addition, NACOEJ will hand over running of the compound in Gondar, which provides people waiting there with a wide range of humanitarian aid and runs a Jewish school, to the quasi-government body, Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee runs a nearby health clinic for the population, which is described as facing a severe humanitarian crisis.

The final phase of organized aliya from Ethiopia is supposed to be wrapped up within the next four years, according to the proposal approved Sunday and only individual applications for aliya will be considered by the Interior Ministry after that.

“I think this is a terrific decision,” commented Joseph Feit, former president of NACOEJ who has stayed involved in attempting to resolve this issue. “As far as we are concerned, the implementation of this decision will be an honorable conclusion to the glorious chapter of organized aliya from Ethiopia.”

Feit added: “We also view this decision as a rebuttal to all those that attack Israel as racist and attempt to delegitimize it.”

Israel’s only Ethiopian Knesset member Shlomo Mulla (Kadima) told The Post that despite the long wait he was delighted with the government’s decision to allow the immigration of these people, many of whom have family members already living here.

“I truly welcome this decision by the government and I thank the Prime Minister for helping to end the suffering of so many people,” he said, adding that the key to “ending this chapter is that JAFI will take over the responsibility of running the camps and will ensure that aliya from Ethiopia is ended.”

After having been involved in numerous similar decisions regarding the flow of aliya from Ethiopia, JAFI chairman Natan Sharansky told The Post that he hoped this decision would indeed become “an historical end to this chapter of Jewish history.”

“In the past there has been a problem that not all the organizations involved in this were coordinating,” explained Sharansky, who was the first government minister to visit Ethiopia as Interior Minister 1999-2001. “However, this time there is an agreement between all the organizations involved and we that we will bring them all within the next few years.

“Israel should be very proud of this. There is no other country in the world that would do such a thing,” he finished.

After the government's announcement on Sunday,
the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, announced that it would give NIS 10 million to help absorb olim from Ethiopia on top of the NIS 40 million it already allocates to assist newcomers to Israel.

“We laud this historic and moral decision that the Israeli government made today,” the Fellewship’s CEO Zion Gabai said. “We see it as our moral responsibility to support the Falash Mura and provide them with the good lives they deserve.”

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