Gov’t approves aliya of last 7,846 Falash Mura

By
November 15, 2010 01:17

Organized immigration from Ethiopia to end within four years; decision partly based on humanitarian grounds.

4 minute read.



Falash Mura Ethiopians.

Falash Mura 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved the continued immigration of 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 to come to Israel.

“All the people here have been fasting and praying that the Israeli government will allow them to make aliya,” said Gatu Zemene, director of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry-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 grassroots organization that has been lobbying the government to allow the Falash Mura to immigrate.

“It is a historic decision and will change the lives of thousands of people waiting to come to Israel,” Neguise said.

“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 cabinet 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 [1996-99], 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,” Netanyahu said.

“We have a moral commitment as Jews, as the people of Israel, to find a solution,” he said.

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

In addition, the North American Coalition on Ethiopian Jews will hand over operation of the compound in Gondar, which provides people waiting there with a wide range of humanitarian aid and runs a Jewish school, to the Jewish Agency. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee runs a nearby health clinic for the population, which is facing a severe humanitarian crisis.

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

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who has been involved in numerous similar decisions regarding the flow of aliya from Ethiopia, told the Post he hoped this decision would indeed become “an historic 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 cabinet member to visit Ethiopia, as interior minister from 1999 to 2001.

“However, this time there is an agreement between all the organizations involved, that we will bring them all within the next few years,” he said. “Israel should be very proud of this. There is no other country in the world that would do such a thing.”

“I think this is a terrific decision,” said Joseph Feit, a former president of the North American Coalition on Ethiopian Jews 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 form Ethiopia,” Feit said. “We also view this decision as a rebuttal to all those that attack Israel as racist and attempt to delegitimize it.”

The only current Ethiopian MK, Shlomo Molla (Kadima), told the Post that despite the long wait he was delighted with the cabinet’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,” Molla said. The key to “ending this chapter is that JAFI [the Jewish Agency for Israel] will take over the responsibility of running the camps and will ensure that aliya from Ethiopia is ended.”


Meanwhile, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews said it would give NIS 10 million to help absorb olim from Ethiopia on top of the NIS 40m. it already allocates to assist newcomers to Israel.

“We laud this historic and moral decision that the Israeli government made today,” the fellowship’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.”

Gil Shefler contributed to this report.


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