Members of the Falash Mura community attend a prayer service at the Hatikva Synagogue in Gondar, northern Ethiopia, in 2016.
(photo credit: TIKSA NEGERI / REUTERS)
Hundreds of members of the Jewish community in Ethiopia gathered on Wednesday morning to express their longing to be reunited with their families in Israel, calling on Israel to approve their applications to immigrate into the country.
The events took place in synagogues in Gondar and Addis Ababa, where thousands of Ethiopians have been waiting for years for the Israeli government to approve their requests.
The event, held in conjunction with the Fast of Esther, concluded with the singing of the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikva
,” and the song “Am Yisrael Chai
” (the people of Israel live). Participants held up pictures of their loved ones in Israel, who were approved for immigration before them; in some cases, families have been separated for over 20 years.
During the event in Gondar, teenagers led the children in the singing of “Hineh ma tov u’ma na’im, shevet ahim gam yahad
” (“How good is it when we dwell together with our brothers”).
Eighteen-year-old Ermias Gebre read a letter in Hebrew to the prime minister, on behalf of “all the Jews who have been left behind.”
“You have said so many times, ‘It is forbidden to give up hope.’ We have learned from you and we will not lose hope.... The honorable prime minister, please, do not forget about us!” the letter read.
According to the two latest cabinet decisions on the issue, held in November 2015 and in August 2016, an estimated 9,000 Falash Mura, Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity, may be brought to Israel by the end of 2020, starting with 1,300 who were brought in 2017.
The 9,000 is only the potential number, of which the government will accept those who meet the ministry’s criteria.
Over two weeks ago the Interior Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office told the State Control Committee that within four weeks the government would approve the immigration of 1,000 Ethiopians residing in Gondar and Addis Ababa in 2018, as a new cabinet decision is needed to allow for continued aliya from Ethiopia this year.
Funds to implement that have yet to be allocated from the 2018 reserve budget.
Future immigration from Ethiopian is also yet to be put on the agenda for the 2019 state budget, which will be closed in two weeks.
During this past Sunday’s cabinet meeting, the issue of the Ethiopian immigration and reunification of families was on the agenda but was not discussed. The reason given by a representative of the Prime Minister’s Office to the advocacy group Struggle for Ethiopian Aliya was: “We ran out of time.
The group accuses the government of stalling and does not believe it will take the relevant steps needed for the funds to be allocated for remaining Ethiopians waiting to make aliya.
“We demand from the government to carry out its obligations to bring the remaining community to Israel and put an end to the suffering of so many families,” the group said.
Twenty-year-old Yetayesh A., a combat soldier in the Search and Rescue Unit of the IDF, immigrated to Israel 12 years ago, and since then is waiting to reunite with her father, who was left behind in Ethiopia. Her father stood in the Hatikva Synagogue in Gondar this morning, holding a picture of his daughter in her army uniform.
“While I am serving my country, I am also in a fight over the basic rights of my father, who deserves to immigrate to Israel like any other Jew,” Yetayesh said.
MK Avraham Neguise of the Likud, who spearheaded efforts to bring Ethiopians to Israel, said: “The situation that families are forced to live in separation from their loved ones, part of them in Israel and part waiting to immigrate, is very sad. Every day I come into contact with heart-wrenching stories of longing, from members of the Ethiopian community in Israel who have family in Israel. I call on the Israeli government to uphold its decisions and to stop procrastinating on this issue. This is a national and moral obligation of the government.”
The Struggle for Ethiopian Aliya is planning a protest for March 12, outside the Prime Minister’s Residence.