Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ethiopian Israelis Protest Delays in Plans to Bring Over Relatives

Ethiopian immigrants hold up pictures of their relatives still living in Ethiopia during a demonstration outside Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office in Jerusalem October 30, 2005. (REUTERS)

Haaretz -- Thousands of Israelis of Ethiopian origin marched in Jerusalem on Sunday to protest against a delay in plans to bring their relatives to the Jewish state.

The Israeli government decided in February to double the immigration rate of the community known as the Falasha Mura, so as to bring over 20,000 people by 2007, but the number arriving in Israel has actually fallen in recent months.

"Why have they not been brought to Israel, even though the government has made the decision to do so?" said Jerry Faradam, 33, a student activist with an Ethiopian lobby group who said he had not seen some family members in 15 years.

"The answer is that we are poor Africans, not rich Americans. We don't have the money or clout to make it happen."

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry blamed the delay on Ethiopian elections, saying it had been impossible to finalize details sooner.

"Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon has said he will do anything it takes to bring the Falasha Mura to Israel," a spokeswoman said. She said details would be worked out next week to allow the remaining members of the community to be brought to Israel.

Israel is home to more than 100,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin, who trace their roots to the biblical King Solomon and Queen of Sheba. The word Falasha means exiles in Ethiopia's Amharic language.

Many Ethiopian Jews were flown to Israel in airlifts during 1984's famine and the end of Ethiopia's civil war in 1991.

The Falasha Mura, who were converted - sometimes forcibly - to Christianity in the 19th and 20th centuries, are eager to migrate to revive their Jewish roots and escape poverty.

Protesters said conditions were worsening for the Falasha Mura community waiting to leave Ethiopia.

"My aunt sold everything she had so she could come to Israel," said Getenat Awoke. "They are now stuck in Addis Ababa living in poverty with no assistance from the Israeli government."

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