First 83 of 1,000 Ethiopian immigrants arrive in Israel

'I am happy but also sad because I am here but my sisters are still in Ethiopia,’ says one new immigrant.

JAFI Ethiopia flight 1 (photo credit: THE JEWISH AGENCY FOR ISRAEL)
JAFI Ethiopia flight 1
The first 83 immigrants from Ethiopia, out of a total of some 1,000 approved last year for entry into Israel, arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday night after waiting in Gondar for an average of 15 years.
In October, the government approved for immigration 1,000 members of the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia who have children currently living in Israel.
Although the government gave approval for 1,000 immigrants based on the criteria of having children already living in Israel, senior sources in the Jewish Agency who wish to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter said that it is unclear if there are in fact that many members of the community who fulfill these criteria.
If there are less than 1,000, the criteria may be expanded to include those with other relatives in Israel, as long as applicants for immigration fulfill other more basic criteria determined by the Interior Ministry and other government agencies.
The immigrants were welcomed by Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog and Aliyah and Integration Minister Yoav Galant, as well as by several well-wishers, including a delegation from the Jewish Federation of Chicago.
“Welcome to Israel my brothers and sisters,” declared Herzog at the arrival ceremony in the airport. “You have waited for many years for this and you are now here at home with your family.”
“I know you left friends and family in Ethiopia and I call on the government to bring all those who remain in Ethiopia to Israel,” he said.
Bilililgn Zigale, 26, who served as a teacher and cantor in Gondar, was one of those granted approval for immigration to Israel, along with his mother and father.
A brother and sister of his received approval for immigration, although two sisters are yet to receive approval.
“I am happy and also sad because I am here but my sisters are still in Gondar,” said Zigale in Hebrew.
“I am very happy that my father and mother were able to come, but my relatives who are still in Gondar are crying because they have not been allowed to come yet,” he said.
Also among those who arrived Monday night, were three siblings who were supposed to arrive with their mother, who had waited many years to immigrate before she finally received it in this latest government decision. Unfortunately, she died just three weeks ago.
Although 1,000 members of the community have been approved for immigration, more than 7,000 members of the community in Addis Ababa and Gondar are still awaiting approval.
Rabbi Menachem Waldman, a long-time campaigner for the immigration of the remaining members of the community, once again welcomed the approval of the 1,000, but said that the ongoing piecemeal approvals of the government continues to divide families.
“This is an example of separating families,” said Waldman. “The government is cutting these families in two. And this is how it’s always been and how we’ve got to the current situation.”
“The government needs to carry out its 2015 decision, bring everyone here and then close the community centers,” he said.
The government resolved in 2015 to bring all remaining members of the community to Israel, but implementation had been delayed for several reasons, including political opposition in Israel.
The Falash Mura do not have the right to citizenship under the Law of Return since their ancestors converted under duress to Christianity. Instead they are granted citizenship under the Law of Entry at the discretion of the interior minister, mostly for family reunification principles.
They are required to convert to Judaism upon entry into Israel.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem organization has provided some $1.2 million to help fund the cost of bringing the 1,000 immigrants to Israel over the course of the year, and has already provided funds for the arrival of the first 300.