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News – Ethiopian Jews

September 2008

Ethiopian Jews

 

A thirty-year immigration project to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel has been brought to an end despite claims from campaigners that many more people should be admitted to the country. During the 1980s and 1990s 120,000 Ethiopians of Jewish descent, sometimes known as Beta Israel, were flown to Israel from Ethiopia and Sudan.

     The Jewish Agency which manages Ethiopian immigration to Israel said 65 Falash Mura people were flown recently from Addis Ababa. They are the last immigrants eligible for repatriation under a government quota imposed in 2003.

     Ethiopian Jews trace their roots to the time of King Solomon and have suffered for their distinctive customs and faith for many years. In the 19th century large numbers were forced to convert to Christianity.

     The Falash Mura are not eligible to enter Israel under the country’s Law of Return because they have largely been unable to prove their Jewish ancestry. The Law of Return guarantees a home for every Jew who can prove family entitlement.

     One of the major episodes of Ethiopian immigration was Operation Moses, a covert, military style extraction of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan during a famine in 1984. The operation was a cooperative effort between the Israel Defence Forces, the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States embassy in Khartoum, mercenaries and Sudanese state security forces.

     It involved the air transport of 8000 (one source claims 18,000) Ethiopian Jews from Sudan directly to Israel. The people had fled Ethiopia on foot for refugee camps in Sudan because of the famine and it is believed thousands died on the way.

     Sudan secretly allowed Israel to evacuate the refugees. However when the story broke in the media, Arab countries pressured Sudan to stop the airlift and around 1000 Ethiopian Jews were left behind. Most of them were evacuated later in the US led Operation Joshua. More than 1000 so-called ‘orphans of circumstance’ existed in Israel, children separated from their families still in Africa, until Operation Solomon took 14,000 more Jews to Israel in 1991.

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