Ethiopian protest PMO 224.88.
(photo credit: Avi Masfin/Israel Assocaition for Ethiopian Jews)
Some 300 Ethiopian Israelis, including more than 100 young children, spent Monday night outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem protesting poor conditions at the Jewish Agency-run Beit Alfa Absorption Center where they live and to highlight a breakdown in financial aid that has left them without food for their youngsters.
"We are literally dying of thirst and hunger," said Zavak Kasa Avka, a 37-year-old father of five who has been living at the center for exactly a year. "The absorption center is isolated and there is no place for us to find work. It's been more than five months since we received any of our benefits from the National Insurance Institute and I don't have any food for my children."
According to a spokesman for the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, the residents of Beit Alfa, which is housed on the kibbutz near Beit She'an, stopped receiving their immigration benefits after their first year in Israel and the National Insurance Institute only picked up the responsibility at the end of the 13th month.
He said the NII had taken into consideration the two month gap by handing out part of the benefit payment earlier this month. "It was obviously not enough for them to live off," the spokesman said.
The Immigrant Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency issued a joint statement calling on those involved in the demonstration to return to the absorption center before the Yom Kippur fast and seek an alternative solution to the problems there.
The demonstrators also say that living at Kibbutz Beit Alfa, a secular community, may cause problems for the Ethiopian immigrants, who are undergoing an Orthodox conversion process and must live in a religious community and require that their children be bused long distances to state religious schools.
"Some of the protesters claim that their children must travel at least four hours by bus to reach their schools and they are just too exhausted to participate in lessons," said Avi Masfin, spokesman of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, which provided the demonstrators with aid during their night in Jerusalem. "They claim they have not received their National Insurance benefits and that there is no work in the area of the kibbutz so they have no income."
"It is not important why this has happened, only to point out that the conditions these people are living under are disgraceful," he said.
A Jewish Agency spokesman denied that the children traveled more than an hour to school and said the secularism of the kibbutz would not affect the conversion process of the immigrants.
A solution to the hunger problem was currently being sought by the agency, he said.