In recent days, a series of reports in The Jerusalem Post have reawakened public attention to the painful and unresolved issue of immigration from Ethiopia.
According to current data, about 8,700 Falash Mura are residing in compounds in Addis Ababa and Gondar in Ethiopia. Jewish Agency representatives and additional aid organizations are caring for those staying there, and extend support and assistance to the extent possible. The JDC has recently opened a medical clinic in the area.
Despite the devoted work of these aid workers, the plight of the Ethiopians living there is severe. Our hearts go out to the men, women and children who are sitting there for long months earnestly expecting to reach the Holy Land and reunite with their family members.
Upon assuming the post of Jewish Agency chairman, Nathan Sharansky formulated organizational policy with regards to the Falash Mura that can be summed up as follows: The 8,700 Falash Mura who are sitting in Addis Ababa and Gondar must be brought to Israel.
Sharansky's approach is based on a fundamental assumption that bringing the Falash Mura to Israel must constitute closure for an affair that has lingered for nearly two decades.
THE MAIN reason this painful issue has stretched out so long is that clear definitions were never set for its conclusion. The pace of bringing the Falash Mura to Israel was set by various Israeli governments. Sometimes we get a trickle of hundreds of immigrants per month; other times the flow intensifies to thousands per month; and sometimes months pass without any Falash Mura immigration at all.
This reality creates a dismal result: An increasing number of Ethiopian citizens have approached the aid compounds and have settled in the area. Jewish Agency workers and emissaries are working night and day together with representatives of the Interior Ministry to ascertain whether these Ethiopians actually arrived there to immigrate to Israel and reunite with their family members, or whether they came simply to find relief for their physical plight.
Recently one of the Knesset committees voiced criticism of the Jewish Agency, alleging that it was ostensibly delaying bringing the Falash Mura members here. Let me clarify: The Jewish Agency does not define Israeli policy on the Falash Mura. This is the exclusive prerogative of the government. The Jewish Agency, for this purpose, is the "executive arm of the State of Israel." The government sets policy related to the integration of the Falash Mura, and the Jewish Agency implements this policy.
I would like to state definitively that not a single person has remained in Ethiopia who has been granted an immigration certificate by the Interior Ministry. Once an individual has received aliya certification, that individual's immigration is facilitated immediately by the Jewish Agency.
THIS IMPORTANT - and unconcluded - task rests on all our shoulders. If we are to bring the thousands of Ethiopians currently in the compounds to Israel, all of us, along with Jewish communities throughout the world, must increase our efforts to ensure their successful absorption. The enlistment of Diaspora Jewry once again on behalf of this humanitarian and Zionist mission of successfully absorbing new Ethiopian immigrants will affirm to the entire Jewish people and to the families still located in Ethiopia that the principle of "all Jews are responsible for each other" is still alive and well.
True, the absorption process for members of the Ethiopian community is long and difficult. But as one who has followed the new immigrants daily and up close, I have witnessed the contribution of community members to the State of Israel and to strengthening its security. As such, I hope the State of Israel will adopt the historic decision and decide to finally wind up this painful chapter of the Falash Mura.
If the government does give the instruction to close the aid camps in Ethiopia and bring those staying there to Israel, we will roll up our sleeves and successfully carry out the mission, just as we have already met the objective of bringing 80,000 members of the Ethiopian community here. But we must remember that simply bringing them here will not suffice. The obligation falls upon all of us to guarantee their successful absorption and the full and equal integration of all new Ethiopian immigrants in Israeli society.
The writer is the director-general of the Aliya and Absorption Department of the Jewish Agency for Israel.