'Moving Moment': Israel Ends Ethiopian Repatriation Program

Photo Gallery: Ethiopian Jews Arrive in Israel Photos
DPA

Some 450 Jews from Ethiopia landed in Israel on Wednesday, the last arrivals in a program to relocate the community to the Holy Land. The campaign, which lasted for nearly thirty years, has been plagued by controversy.

Natan Sharansky described it as a "moving historical moment." The head of the Jewish Agency for Israel -- the body tasked with overseeing immigration -- on Wednesday accompanied the last group of Ethiopian Jews on their journey to the Holy Land. Some 450 so-called "Falashas" flew to an airport near Tel Aviv in two chartered flights.

65 years after the establishment of the Israeli nation state, the country has concluded its mass repatriation program for Ethiopian Jews. The arrival of the group means that the religious minority's 3000-year history is finally coming full circle, said Sharansky, according to the German news agency DPA.

Over the last three decades, about 100,000 Jews have been repatriated from the East African country to Israel. The program began with three operations dubbed "Moses" (1984), "Joshua" (1985) and "Solomon" (1991-1992).

After these were completed, the operation came to a prolonged standstill due to a political altercation about whether the Falash Mura -- who were forced to convert to Christianity in the 18th and 19th century, but maintained their Jewish rituals -- should be entitled to Israeli citizenship.

Discrimination Rife

Although some ultra-Orthodox Rabbis still refuse to recognize the group's status as Jews, the Israeli government organized a further repatriation effort -- dubbed "Operation Dove Wing" -- in November 2010. Last October, the first of a total of 93 chartered flights arrived in the country. Before leaving Ethiopia, the Falah Mura had spent several years in transit camps in the nothern city of Gondar being prepared for Israeli life.

Around 500 protestors gathered in front of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence on Wednesday. Their aim was to expand the repatriation program to include a further 5,000 Ethiopians who hadn't been acknowledged as practicing Jews, and therefore hadn't qualified for Operation Dove Wing. The Israeli government has introduced a rule whereby Ethiopians wanting to return to the Holy Land are only able to do so by applying on an individual basis.

The black minority group often faces discrimination in Israel. In 1996, the country's daily Maariv newspaper revealed that Magen David Adom -- the country's bloodbank service -- had been destroying all blood samples provided by Ethiopian Jews. Last year, the Israeli broadcaster Channel 2 revealed that 120 landlords in the southern town of Kiryat Malakhi had agreed not to rent out or sell their houses and apartments to members of the African minority.

Many Ethiopian migrants live in low income areas and illegal settlements. Human rights organizations have accused the Israeli government of forcibly sterilizing members of the minority group. The authorities have denied the allegations.

syd -- with wire reports

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1. optional
peskyvera 08/29/2013
I feel sorry for the Ethiopians. They might be Jewish but they'll be discriminated for the colour of their skin.
2. optional
danm 08/29/2013
Why would orthodox jews question the validity of these people? Is it because they question their semetic origin? If so, then maybe they should look at all of the orthodox jews from eastern europe whose ancestry is linked to converts from central asia over a thousand years ago. The fact that these people share the same faith ought to be enough. After a two thousand year diaspora any talk of ethnic purity is ridiculous.
3.
crocyr 08/30/2013
"The arrival of the group means that the religious minority's 3000-year history is finally coming full circle, said Sharansky, according to the German news agency DPA." This gets me wandering. By all considerations, Ethiopian Jews stand out as the oldest Jewish community in the world. Judaism was an Egyptian faith. Whether or not Moses actually existed and led his people out of Egypt, which I believe is only allegory, there is no doubt the faith came out of Egypt. Within Africa, Judaism flourished all along the Nile, including in the Ethiopian Highlands, where the historic river begins its long journey. Contemporary Jews have not decided whether they are a religion or a "tribe". But Jews have not been a "tribe" ever since they left Africa, which makes me think that the departure of the Bete Israel, as the Falasha Jews are formally called, from Ethiopia is a loss to the old country, and a valuable enhancement to the recently constituted sate of Israel. Population genetics, specifically Y-Chromosome DNA vaunts for the antiquity of the Falasha Jews. To the contrary, upwards of 80% of Israelis are found to be Europeans, mostly Ashkenazie. The truth is stranger than fiction!
4. Very Little Prejudice in Israel
Texana 08/31/2013
Israel is a very tolerant place, embracing many people from many lands, providing the same rights for Muslims and Christians as for Jewish citizens, and this can be seen as a visitor travels around the country. The current Miss Israel is Ethiopian. Many of my daughter's university students are Muslim, Christian and Ethiopian, as well as Jewish, so there is educational opportunity in Israel. Every society has its religious extremists. Every single place does, and Israel is no exception, but the orthodox community is in the minority and does not represent the hearts and minds of most Jewish citizens---thank goodness that most Israelis are tolerant and welcoming to others. We all know the harm that can be done by those who hate others as a group, and the citizens of Israel know the dangers of hatred and intolerance. Few countries have been so generous and welcoming to immigrants and not just those who are Jewish.
5. Israel Tolerant and Welcoming
Texana 09/01/2013
Because of the terrible treatment of the Jewish people throughout history, the people of Israel are committed to being tolerant and welcoming to minorities. Muslims and Christians, Druse and others all enjoy the very same rights as Jewish Israelis. They often hold high government offices, they own businesses, and most of all they can worship and live in peace. Ms. Israel this year is an Ethiopian woman. I wonder if this comment will be approved since I am not slamming Israel!
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