At the end of the last century Israel transported tens of thousands of Falashas who claim to be Jews and call themselves “Beita Yisrael” from Ethiopia to Israel in two operations – Operation Moses and Operation Solomon. Their numbers in Israel today are estimated to be about one hundred thousand. There is another Ethiopian group, called the Falash Mura who practise Christianity, go to church, marry Christian women, and wear crosses. Some of them are even Christian Orthodox priests. The Falash Mura claim to be descendents of the Falashas whom Christian missionaries converted to Christianity in the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. The Israeli government has been quietly transporting these people to Israel since the 1990s. Almost every month a few hundred Falash Mura arrive in Israel unobtrusively. Their numbers in Israel now amount to twenty thousand and there are thousands more who have been gathered together by the Jewish Agency and other Jewish and Christian organisations in Gondar and Addis Ababa. The number of these people who have been living at the expense of these organisations while waiting to be airlifted to Israel is estimated to be about twenty thousand. This year the Israeli cabinet decided to speed up their transportation to Israel. This decision it seems was prompted by the report which the head of the Jewish Agency presented to the International Interdisciplinary Centre in Hetzellia, at its annual conference, in which he stated that the number of Jews in the world is decreasing. According to this report, fifty Jews are lost to the faith every day. The report also stated that the number of immigrants to Israel, particularly from countries of the former Soviet Union, is shrinking. The decision was made in the light of this background. As many Ethiopian nationals feel resentment about this operation, Israel decided to take these people gradually. According to the Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, “The Israeli government does not want to embarrass the Ethiopian government by taking its citizens”. But the Ethiopians say that what Israel is doing is damaging the history and the heritage of the country and say if Israel wants to really help these people she can do so where they are. The Ethiopian government for its part has objected to what it views as provocation in its internal affairs and has also cast doubts on the number who are willing to convert to Judaism. In fact some of the Falashas in Israel have disputed the claim of the Falash Mura and have also objected to their transportation to Israel. They maintain that these people are Christians who simply want to escape the life of poverty and destitution in which they live. Even some rabbis have refused to accept their claims. Some members of the Knesset have also objected to bringing so many Christian people to Israel, because they think that so large a number will affect the Jewish character of the country and will harm the fabric of society. But the head of the Jewish Agency has defended the decision to bring them to Israel and said that “The decision was right from humanitarian, Jewish and Zionist points of view and that Israel is not bringing them in accordance with the Law of Return but in accordance with the Family Reunion Law”. In fact some officials say that whether these people are of Jewish origin or not they are going to be converted to Orthodox Judaism on their arrival. Besides the Falash Mura, Israel is also bringing another Ethiopian group called the Qawara who live in the north east of the country. They claim that they are of Jewish origin and want to live in Israel. A few thousand of them are already living in Israel and thousands more are also being transported there by the government. An additional Ethiopian group are called the Gomez whom the Qawara bought as slaves from the Amhara people and converted them to their religion and became part of them. It seems that the transportation of these people from Ethiopia will not be the last one according to the Jerusalem Post newspaper whose correspondent went into the countryside and villages in Ethiopia to investigate. The correspondent found thousands of Ethiopians who claim to have connections with Judaism and want to be taken to Israel. Israel continues to bring these Ethiopians despite the problems those already settled in the country are having such as discrimination and poverty. A recent survey shows that 60% of the Falashas live in poverty and that unemployment among them is at a high rate. In fact it is the highest among Israeli groups. The rate of suicide among this group is also the highest in Israel. Besides, they have begun to reject the culture of Israel and to aspire towards that of Africa and the Caribbean. Some of them have begun to avoid serving in the army. All this it seems is a kind of protest against the discrimination they claim to have experienced. According to a recent survey 43% of Israelis would refuse to marry an Ethiopian or allow their children to do so. Besides the groups from Ethiopia, Israel is planning to transport some tens of thousands of people from tribes living on the borders between India and Myanmar. These people claim to be descendents of Menessah (son of Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob who founded the Israeli tribes). Israel has already taken a few hundred of these people and put some of them in settlements in the Occupied Territories. Some Israeli rabbis have been sent by the chief Rabbinate to prepare them for immigration. The search for the so called Lost Jewish Tribes by Israel and Jewish Agencies stretches from Latin America through Africa to Asia. But the decision which will open the door wide for immigration is that of the Jewish Agency which allows any Jew by choice (non-Jewish person converting to Judaism) to emigrate to Israel. But Israel of course looks at immigration as an important source of strength in any negotiations with the Arabs and Palestinians. It also wants to offset the demographic expansion of the Palestinians whose numbers, according to statistics, in historic Palestine will be greater than the Jews in a few years time.
This article was published in the Return Review, 2005