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The High Court of Justice will order the state to allow more than 1,400 additional members of the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia to immigrate to Israel if the state does not agree to do so voluntarily, Justice Ayala Procaccia indicated Sunday.
However, a panel of three justices refused to hear the petitioners' request to process 8,000 additional members of the community who were allegedly included in a population survey taken in 1999 and then dropped from the list, which the government used as the basis for processing the applications.
The court ruled that this request, as well as a request for an interim injunction ordering the Interior Interior to send its processing clerk back to Ethiopia to deal with the thousands of Falash Mura potentially eligible to immigrate, were new issues that could not be heard in the framework of the existing petition.
The existing petition was filed on June 30, 2003. It called on the government to speed up the implementation of a cabinet decision made on February 16 that year, according to which "the offspring of Ethiopian Jewry from their maternal side who wish to return to Judaism may enter Israel according to the Entry to Israel Law in order to formally return to Judaism and reunite with the Jewish people." The February cabinet decision did not give any numbers regarding the number of potentially eligible offspring there might be in Ethiopia.
The petition was filed by the Aschalao Ambao, a leader of the Ethiopian community in Israel, Abata Desa Wandmagio and 378 other members of the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia, and an American organization, The Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry. According to the petition, the Ethiopian petitioners said they represented the roughly 17,000 members of the community seeking permission to immigrate.
Indeed, in November 2004, the cabinet passed a resolution stating that there was a list of 17,188 Ethiopians who might be eligible for immigration and that the Interior Minister would process the application of every one.
During Sunday's High Court hearing, which lasted three hours and was packed with members of the Falash Mura community, the state told the court it had finished processing all of the applicants and had therefore recalled the Interior Ministry emissary to Israel.
According to the figures presented by the state's representative, attorney Yochi Gnessin, there were a total of 20,811 potential immigrants, including the children that had been born to the original 17,188. Of these, the applications of 14,620 had been accepted and were now in Israel. Another 1,155 had been accepted and were due to arrive in Israel in the next few months. Some 4,371 applications were rejected. Another 651 Ethiopians included in 263 applications did not show up for processing.
The figures indicated that 15,775 members of the Falash Mura community were either already in Israel or would be coming soon.
This figure is 1,413 less than the total number of potential immigrants referred to in the cabinet decision of 2004.
Procaccia asked the state to allow another 1,413 Falash Mura to immigrate beyond the original list, as long as they meet the criteria. "This will improve the morale of the community," she said.
Gnessin balked at the idea and said angrily and in a raised voice that there would be no end to the demands of the Falash Mura to enter Israel unless the government put an end to them.
Canadian Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler told the court the government had passed another resolution on July 31, 2005, in which, once again, it did not refer to a specific number of Falash Mura who would be processed. According to the resolution, said Cotler, "the examination of eligibility will end by the end of 2005 and a final and agreed-upon list will be drawn up of the names of all the candidates for immigration."
Cotler argued that this decision superseded the November 2004 cabinet resolution. He also maintained that the government did not have the right to restrict immigration in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner, quoting former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar, who told the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee that the state could not deny any Jew's inherent right to immigrate to Israel if he were indeed eligible to immigrate.
Cotler also called on the court to remember its obligation to "do justice" and added that that was what the Falash Mura community was seeking.
The court said it would hand down its ruling in the near future.