FALASH MURA kids 248 88.
(photo credit: Uriel Heilman)
A Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) health clinic established to take care of the medical needs of thousands of Falash Mura waiting to immigrate to Israel from Gondar in northern Ethiopia remains closed this week, despite recent Israeli government moves to continue aliya from the east African nation, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
According to information provided by the JDC, the clinic closed just over a month ago and arrangements were made for patients to seek health care in other medical facilities.
But representatives of the North American Coalition on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ), which provides food and educational resources in Gondar, claim that the closure could have dire effects on the health of those whose status as potential immigrants to Israel is still unclear.
On Wednesday, the Interior Ministry confirmed to MKs that two of its representatives would be returning to Ethiopia as early as next week - after a year-and-a-half absence - to determine the eligibility for aliya of some 3,000 Falash Mura - Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity centuries ago.
Despite the Interior Ministry's plan to return to Ethiopia, it was not clear whether the JDC would follow suit and resume its life-saving health-care activities in the region.
"Should the government of Israel resume eligibility checks for a defined number of Falash Mura claimants, JDC will consider renewing its activities to assist during the transitional period those found eligible and waiting for flights to Israel," the organization said, in a statement.
A JDC spokesman added that closing the clinic had been a direct response to a previous Israeli government announced that the aliya process had been completed.
In January 2008, the Interior Ministry recalled its Gondar-based staff and claim that aliya from Ethiopia was complete. But protests from local community members, representatives of North American Jewry and a several key MKs, claimed that between 9,000-15,000 Falash Mura who fit the government's criteria for aliya still needed to be assessed.
Last September, the previous government pledged to send Interior Ministry officials back to Gondar to check an additional 3,000 people.
During Wednesday's Knesset session, Population Registry director Ya'acov Ganot confirmed that representatives would be returning to Ethiopia within the next 10 days and that eligibility checks would continue through September.
On Tuesday, the ministry placed ads in local media urging Israel-based Ethiopians to make applications on behalf of their relatives before the month's end.
A spokesman for the Jewish Agency for Israel, which has facilitated the ongoing aliya from Ethiopia, told the Post that it had been approached by Interior Minister Eli Yishai and been asked to prepare itself for the next wave of immigrants.
Roughly 100 new immigrants are expected to arrive in Israel each month, he said.
"This is a complete change in direction for the ministry," noted Rabbi Menachem Waldman, a member of the Public Council for Ethiopian Jewish, which has actively been lobbying the government to reactivate the flow of aliya.
"We have already met with the new minister and his approach is very different from [previous interior minister Meir] Sheetrit. We are hopeful that with his support we will be able to finally end this issue."