An Ethiopian Journal

"Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters"

Posts Tagged ‘Israel

“Bring Me the Ethiopian Jews”

leave a comment »

Source: World Policy Blog

November 17, 2016
By Omri Bezalel

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin called the head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, into his office in 1977 and said to him, “Bring me the Ethiopian Jews.” What followed were a series of missions by land, sea, and air that brought more than 56,000 Jewish Ethiopians through Sudan into Israel over eight years. It was a highpoint in Israel’s history, followed immediately by a massive failure to integrate Ethiopians into Israeli society—a failure that carries immense consequences for today’s young Ethiopian-Israelis who experience racial discrimination and sometimes feel as though they’re not part of Israeli society.

The scale of the calamity can be found in demographic statistics. There are about 140,000 Ethiopian-Israelis living in Israel, about 50,000 of whom were born in Israel. Sixty-five percent of Ethiopian children live in poverty and one-fifth are incarcerated in juvenile detention centers. Less than 11 percent of Ethiopian-Israeli high school students are eligible to graduate. One in five Ethiopian-Israelis—five times the number for the general population—are jailed during their military service, making up 12 percent of the military prison population but only 2 percent of the military. There are fewer than 40 Ethiopians (one out of 3,000) who practice law.

Today’s problems can be traced to the integration process Ethiopians went through when they first came to Israel. Addisu Masale, the first Ethiopian elected to the Knesset, remembers the segregation starting on arrival when he and others were put in permanent public housing. But these projects didn’t exist in prospering neighborhoods, which feared property devaluation; it was the neighborhoods lower on the socio-economic scale that were forced to take in the newcomers. Non-Ethiopian residents soon left, leaving the Ethiopian community isolated from the rest of Israeli society.

“In that way,” Massale said, “the schools and kindergartens, the offices, the neighborhoods, everything naturally became 100 percent Ethiopian with no connection to the rest of Israeli society, and no integration whatsoever.”

Masale, 63, was born in a Jewish village 500 miles north of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. He went to a Jewish elementary school where he heard fairytales about Israel as a place without death and illness. The communist regime in Ethiopia at the time had many citizens looking for asylum in neighboring countries, and Zionist Ethiopian Jews, including Masale’s family, escaped to Sudan in hopes of making it to Israel. As many as 4,000 people died during the journey.

Masale recalls a long history of discrimination in Israel that led him to organize protests. In 1985, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel questioned Ethiopians’ Judaism and decreed they all had to convert; in 1996, the Ethiopian-Israeli community found out the blood bank was throwing away any blood they were donating.

Pnina Tamano-Shata immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in 1984 at the age of three. Even though she excelled in school, she was routinely taken out of class to attend reinforcement lessons with other Ethiopian children.

“The separatism starts with the basic misperception that Ethiopians are weaker, based on the old reality of Ethiopians from 30 years ago who came to Israel with little or no education,” Tamano-Shata said. “Educators have projected this view onto students, many of whom have been tracked down special educational programs that don’t necessarily fit their skills or ability, and that isolate them in a homogenous environment that hinders their development and integration with Israeli society.” This separation leads to isolation, hostility, frustration, and increasing differences between Ethiopian children and their peers.

Israeli society has also been unwilling to accept Ethiopian-Israelis. In a 2013 Ministry of Finance survey asking employers which demographic groups they most preferred hiring, Ethiopians came in last after women, people aged over 45, people with disabilities, immigrants from the former USSR, Orthodox Jews, and Arabs. A 2012 survey by Geocartographica said that less than half of non-immigrant Israelis supported mixed classrooms, and only a quarter would allow their children to marry Ethiopians.

In an opinion piece called “I’m Not Your Cleaning Lady” for Ynet News, Israeli-born Esther Bisur gave examples of society’s institutionalized racism through her day-to-day interactions. These included strangers offering her jobs as a housekeeper, constantly being asked “when did you immigrate to Israel,” and her non-Ethiopian boyfriend being commended for “volunteering with the Ethiopian community” when seen together with her and her family.

This ongoing discrimination—along with greater awareness of the situation, through means such as a viral video of an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier beaten by a police officer—led to massive protests in Tel Aviv last year. The demonstrations were organized by a new generation of Ethiopian-Israelis, most of whom were born and raised in Israel. They claim they’re treated like second-class citizens and refuse to carry on what they consider to be their parents’ generation’s passive mentality.

“The older generation was content in fulfilling the dream of coming to Israel, and then were too busy surviving,” Tamano-Shata said. “The younger generation is fighting for its place within Israeli society, navigating its way between their love for their country and the many blows they absorb based on their skin color.”

While the situation for Ethiopian-Israelis has improved in recent years, many in the community agree they should be more involved in decision making. Various government and civil society programs have attempted over the years to close the gap between Ethiopian-Israelis and the rest of the population, but program leaders have, in the past, mostly been non-Ethiopians. This has led many in the Ethiopian community to see these programs as another means of differentiating them from the general population.

Many in the Jewish community in the U.S. and abroad, out of true concern, have insisted the money they donate be used to help Ethiopians. This has led Israel to fund segregated programs that haven’t helped integrate Ethiopians. Tamano-Shata, who won a seat in the Knesset in 2013, pushed to pass a bill that said donors couldn’t dictate where their money went, allowing funds to be allocated in ways that meet the true needs of the community.

One of Tamano-Shata’s solutions is to have differential treatment in the budget, but integration in practice. For instance, instead of budgeting for Ethiopian youth centers, money would go toward providing Ethiopian children vouchers to attend community centers with the rest of the neighborhood children.

Masale believes there must be one authority in charge of all Ethiopian-Israeli matters, from policy regulation and distributing funds to publicity efforts that inform the public about the community’s history and culture in an effort to get rid of the stereotypes and ignorance that fuel discrimination.

On the one hand, things are better today than they once were. Two Ethiopian-Israeli female judges were recently appointed, the Ethiopian community is becoming more involved in decision-making processes, and there are many people, in and outside of government, who are working toward further improvements. This year, the prime minister signed a policy stating the Ethiopian National Project must spend its $130 million annual budget on programs that promote integration. But social media has also made the Ethiopian-Israeli community more aware of the injustices happening around the country as more cell phone footage, personal stories, and investigative journalism bring to light the harsh barrier of racism Ethiopian-Israelis face today.

“The flag of immigrants still waves in Israel,” Masale said. “People want immigrants in Israel, just not in their backyard.” Israel prides itself in being a beacon for Jews everywhere, and even has a Law of Return that promises citizenship to every Jew who wants it. But the true challenge of that promise isn’t in bringing Jews to Israel, but in what comes after.


Omri Bezalel is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.

Written by Tseday

January 12, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Ethiopian Israelis still wander in the desert

leave a comment »

May 8th 2015 by Steven Kaplan

The Ethiopians [in Israel] will remain in the anomalous situation of both having entered the Promised Land and continuing to wander in the desert. Forty years may not be long enough this time.

Anyone viewing the recent clashes between Ethiopian-Israeli demonstrators and local policemen in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv could not help being reminded of similar scenes taking place barely a week earlier in Baltimore. Such a clear visual link between events in two such disparate places cannot but be viewed as further testimony to the power of satellite news and globalized media. We should, however, proceed cautiously in comparing the two situation or reactions of the parties involved.

Israel’s Ethiopian population is of fairly recent origin. Beginning in 1977, small groups began to make their way to Israel through Sudan or other countries. (At the time, Israel had no diplomatic relations with Ethiopia’s Marxist military regime.) Dramatic airlifts from Sudan (1984 and ’85) and on the eve of the fall of the Marxist government (1991) brought thousands into the country. After 1991, tens of thousands more arrived. Many of these immigrants spent years in transition camps in Ethiopia while Israeli politicians debated whether descendants and relatives of those brought into the country as Jews also had the right to make aliyah (literally “to ascend”) to Israel.

Today the Ethiopian population stands at about 135,000, over a third of whom were born in Israel or arrived in the country as small children. Despite plenty of good intentions (and we all know where those lead), their integration (what is called in Israel absorption) has not been easy.

While the immediate catalyst for the latest eruption of rage was the beating of an Ethiopian soldier caught on video, there are clearly deeper structural issues at stake. Although there have been clear improvements in school performance, high school completion, employment and almost every other quantifiable measure, Ethiopians still lag behind most of the country in educational achievement and income. Moreover, while the percentage of Ethiopians who serve in the military is higher than for the general population (and in Israel this is considered a badge of success), the percentage who complete their service is comparatively low. Despite official rulings in their favor, large parts of the powerful rabbinic establishment still question the Jewishness of the Ethiopians. Almost every school year begins with “crises” as one school or another refuses to accept its planned number of Ethiopian students.

Although it is often said that Israel is the first country to bring in people of African descent not to enslave them but to grant them equal rights as citizens, the truth is much more complex. Ethiopians were brought to Israel not merely to have equal rights but to be part of the dominant Jewish majority. Perhaps the most persistent testimony to this is that virtually any statistic available from government and nongovernment sources regarding the Ethiopians compares them not with the population as a whole but to other Jews.

For purposes of comparison, the 20 percent of the population that is Arab is invisible, and the success or failure of the Ethiopians is measured against only their Jewish counterparts. Thus while the campaigns on behalf of the Ethiopians are often voiced in terms of universal human rights, they often have a much narrower focus: equality with other Israeli Jews.

According to polls, Israelis overwhelmingly acknowledge that Ethiopians are discriminated against. This is commendable and in sharp contrast to the United States, where denial about racial discrimination is still common. At least in part, the Israeli anti-racist consensus is convenient because it limits itself to Jewish Ethiopian-Israelis.

Thus one can be anti-racist on the one hand and on the other ignore or take part in the ongoing pernicious discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel (leaving the territories out of the equation for the moment) or African migrants. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who infamously warned of “droves” of Arab voters going to the polls during the recent election, was quick to chime in condemning the latest mistreatment of Ethiopians. “We must stand together as one against the phenomenon of racism, to denounce it and eliminate it,” he said.

Similarly, the Orthodox Sephardi party Shas has been among the most welcoming to the Ethiopians, while depicting African migrants as infiltrators who pose “no less a threat than a nuclear Iran,” as onetime party leader Eli Yishai put it. In a 2012 poll, more than 50 percent of Israelis surveyed agreed with the statement that African migrants are a “cancer on the body of the nation.” The same poll indicated that fully a third condoned violence against the migrants. Small wonder that at least some of the anti-Ethiopian violence in Israel appears to begin when police mistook Ethiopians for the “wrong” kind of African — Sudanese or Eritreans.

That said, there is no arguing that the situation of Ethiopians in Israel is difficult. Many suffer from daily slights and discrimination. Moreover, they are underrepresented in the country’s universities and key industries and overrepresented in its jails and prisons. Many are stuck in Israel’s periphery in small towns, which have poor schools and limited employment opportunities.

If past incidents are any indication, the latest uproar will quickly pass after the requisite handwringing and public statements. The policemen involved have already been either fired or suspended, and the political leaders have voiced their condemnation. The Israeli Ministry of Education immediately put forward age-appropriate lesson plans on racism and violence.

Doubtless money will be found for cultural awareness programs, for recruitment of Ethiopian officers and for research, which will be call for more programs, more recruitment and more research. The beating of the soldier will be added to the cumulative song (think “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”) of injustices done to Ethiopian Israelis, all of which will be dutifully recited the next time their mistreatment becomes public.

Meanwhile, the Ethiopians will remain in the anomalous situation of both having entered the Promised Land and continuing to wander in the desert. Forty years may not be long enough this time.

Written by Tseday

May 11, 2015 at 1:38 am

History of Israeli state racism towards Ethiopian Jews

leave a comment »

Interview with Ethiopian-Israeli lawyer and community activist Emmanuel Melese Hadana

Written by Tseday

May 1, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Rabbi Dovid Weiss interview on the occupation of Palestine

leave a comment »

Jewish religious scholar Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss explains why he believes that Israel as a state is not legitimate and why he opposes the occupation of Palestine.

Written by Tseday

April 10, 2015 at 9:04 pm

Operation Moses

leave a comment »

ADL documentary recording the unprecedented mission and rescue of exiled Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the early 1980’s.


Written by Tseday

May 22, 2011 at 8:06 am

Zionism in Palestine

with 3 comments

Photo by Ilan Assayag – January 2012 – Ethiopian-Israelis protesters march in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem and hold signs which read, ‘Blacks and Whites – We’re all Equal’ and ‘Our Blood is Only Good for Wars.’

An Ethiopian Easter in Jerusalem

with one comment

Palestine Monitor
29 April 2008

Contrary to romantic perceptions, the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City by night are typically sinister and ghostly due to a combination of bad lighting and poor rubbish collection services, together with the cadres of patrolling Israeli police and soldiers armed with rifles and batons, and the scores of CCTV cameras that punctuate the walls of each winding alley.

But this weekend, the city’s streets took on a festive hue as thousands of orthodox pilgrims converged on the city’s Christian holy sites to celebrate the most important event in the Christian liturgical calendar: Easter.

José M. Ruibérriz

A willing pilgrim poses for the many photographers present at the Holy Saturday ceremony. Photo: José M. Ruibérriz

One of the most lively and joyful of these celebrations is the Holy Saturday festival held at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians believe to be built on the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

The Holy Saturday festival commemorates the time that Jesus is said to have lain in the tomb and descended into hell, defying death and releasing those held captive there, including Adam and Eve.

According to orthodox tradition, at exactly 2pm on this day, a sun beam is said to shine on Jesus’ tomb, lighting 33 candles held by the Patriarch of the Greek Church who waits inside the tomb. The Patriarch then emerges carrying the Holy Fire to light the candles of thousands of worshippers that crowd into the Church for the ceremony.

But because of the strict guidelines defining which part of the Church belongs to which of the six churches based there, Jerusalem’s tiny Ethiopian community conducts its own Holy Fire ceremony later on Saturday evening in the courtyard of the Deir Al-Sultan monastery, which sits on the rooftop of the Church.

Deir Al-Sultan has been home to a community of Ethiopian monks since 1808. The monastery lies above the Chapel of the Finding of the Cross, where Queen Helena is believed to have discovered the three crosses used to crucify Jesus and the two thieves, Dismas and Gestas. It consists of several small chapels, including the Chapel of the Archangel Michael, and a courtyard with a dome in the centre which gives light to the Chapel of Saint Helena below.

During the Holy Saturday festival, the Archbishop of the Ethiopian Church, dressed in an elaborate golden garment, wearing a jewelled crown and sporting a candle carrying the Holy Fire, lights candles carried by monks, nuns and pilgrims wearing simple white cotton robes. Led by the Archbishop, the worshippers proceed to dance around the dome of the Chapel of Saint Helena to the sound of drums and to the smell of incense, chanting and singing as they go. The Archbishop then retreats to a tent erected outside the Chapel of the Archangel Michael especially for the occasion, where prayers continue.

José M. Ruibérriz

Ethiopian pilgrims dress in white cotton robes for the Holy Saturday ceremony. Photo: José M. Ruibérriz

The Ethiopian Holy Fire ceremony attracts a great deal of attention, and today the courtyard is filled with Israelis, Palestinians, Germans, Italians and a multitude of other nationalities vying for the best view of the festivities.

A spirit of joy prevails over the celebrations, fuelled by the infectious smiles of the Ethiopian pilgrims. While some of the younger worshippers pose with their candles for the many camera-toting media and tourists, some of the older members frown on, decidedly unimpressed by this outside attention.

José M. Ruibérriz

A nun frowns at the touristic and media attention generated by the ceremony. Photo: José M. Ruibérriz

Yet outside of the Easter festivities, the area is the site of a lengthy and sometimes violent turf war between the Ethiopian and Coptic churches, exacerbating and exacerbated by other disputes between the six churches competing for control over the Church: the Latins (Roman Catholics), Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Copts, and Ethiopians.

Since its dedication around 335, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has undergone many cycles of destruction and rebuilding often strongly linked to political upheavals that have persisted in the region throughout history. And since the accession to power of the Ottoman Turks in 1517, many political machinations among Christians trying to gain control over all or parts of the edifice have followed.

On Palm Sunday in 1767, a squabble broke out between the Greeks and Franciscans over rights to the Church. In order to put what they thought was a decisive end to the bickering, the Ottoman authorities passed a firman (imperial decree) splitting the Church and other holy sites in Palestine between the various Western and Eastern churches. This eventually came to be known as the Status Quo, basically a legal regime restating the different rights and powers enjoyed by the various Christian denominations over holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, including the monastery of Deir Al-Sultan in Jerusalem.

Successive regimes promised to uphold the Status Quo throughout the 20th century, including the British, the Jordanian, and the Israelis. But neither the Jordanians nor the Israelis kept their Status Quo promises when it came to Deir Al-Sultan. In what some say was a jibe at the Egyptian authorities at the time, the Jordanians passed a ministerial decree in 1960 ordering the Coptic Church to hand over the monastery’s keys to the Ethiopians. When the Copts refused, the Jordanian police forcefully broke open the monastery’s locks and handed the new keys over to the Ethiopians. The Jordanian king personally intervened and ordered that the monastery be restored to the Coptic Church.

But the Jordanians lost East Jerusalem and the Old City when they were occupied by the Israelis in June 1967, and the dispute erupted yet again. On Coptic Easter in 1970, while the Copts were busy at midnight prayers in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Israeli police forcefully changed the locks at Deir Al-Sultan and handed over the monastery’s new keys to the Ethiopians. Despite a ruling by Israel’s High Court in 1971 that the monastery be returned to the Copts, no action was taken and the situation remains unresolved to this day.

For their part, the Ethiopians accuse the Copts of having taken over the monastery in 1838 when plague struck Jerusalem and all the Ethiopian monks died. According to the Ethiopians, the Copts burned down the library containing the documents which validated the Ethiopians’ claim to Deir Al-Sultan.

José M. Ruibérriz

An elderly pilgrim reads his bible by candlelight. Photo: José M. Ruibérriz

Today, a tense coexistence prevails between the Copts and the Ethiopians, one where even the most seemingly insignificant actions can spark off fierce internecine fighting. In 2002, an unholy brawl broke out when an Egyptian Coptic monk stationed on the roof decided to move his chair from its agreed spot into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile move by the Ethiopians, violating an agreement that defines ownership over every nook and cranny in the Church. Rivals hurled stones, iron bars and chairs at each other in the resulting fracas, and seven Ethiopian Orthodox monks and four Egyptian Coptic monks were hospitalised as a result.

This tragi-comic incident is just a small example of the wider battle raging within and over Jerusalem, one that is not only religious, but deeply political. While this Easter passed without incident at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Palestinian struggle for East Jerusalem as a Palestinian city is being severely undermined day by day.

The building of Israel’s Apartheid Wall is isolating the city from its Palestinian hinterland in Ramallah and Bethlehem, while the construction of thousands of new illegal settlement homes for Jewish Israelis on confiscated Palestinian land are fragmenting Palestinian neighbourhoods and severely impeding their development.


Worshippers carry candles light by the Holy Fire. Photo: José M. Ruibérriz

While pilgrims from all over the world come to Jerusalem to pray at its holy sites, local Palestinian worshippers, Christians and Muslims alike, are denied free access to the city and depend on permits arbitrarily granted by the Israeli authorities. While Israel puts on a show of beneficent religious tolerance for the outside world, it quietly enforces a relentless system of Apartheid against Palestinians.

Written by Tseday

November 4, 2008 at 11:32 pm