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History of Beta Israel

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Beta Israel
Ethiopea and Israel

The black Jews of Ethiopea call themselves Beta Israel (House of Israel) and date back at least to the 14th century. They are also known as the Falasha, which means wanderer or exile and is considered derogatory. The majority lived in Ethiopea until 1984 and 1991, when 35,000 were airlifted to Israel. As a result of those two major immigrations and a continuous stream of immigration into Israel, 60,000 wound up living there by the mid-90's, reaching 74,000 by late 1999. However twenty thousand remain in Ethiopea, where they face a harsh life. Israel is now trying to bring about the immigration of these remnants. Here we track stories related to Beta Israel:

Beta Israel reconsidered: Defending the Israelite ancestry of Ethiopian Jews  3/21/2017 Genetic Litteracy Project: "“Historians still debate the precise origins of Ethiopia’s Jewish community but agree that it developed largely in isolation until the 20th century.” The statement reiterates the idea embedded in the traditional theory that the group has developed locally, “in isolation,” without an ancient Israelite connection. Although a majority of historians have subscribed to this hypothesis, not all scholars agree on its premises as the article’s authors insinuate. Scholars, such as David Kessler in his work The Falashas, argue that there is no persuasive reason to assume that the Ethiopian Jews descend from Christian separatists since their faith, among many other reasons, is an authentic form of Judaism that predates Christianity."

Israel Forcibly Injected African Immigrants with Birth Control, Report Claims  1/28/2013 Forbes: "Some 130,000 Ethiopians, most of them Jewish, live in Israel. The community experiences higher poverty and unemployment rates than the rest of the country's Jewish population. In the past decade, the birth rate among Ethiopian-Israelis has declined by at least 20 percent. Advocacy groups now claim this decline is the result of a birth control regimen forced upon Ethiopian immigrant women."

Israel Admits Ethiopian Women Were Given Birth Control Shots  1/27/2013 Haaretz: "Health Ministry director general instructs all gynecologists in Israel's four health maintenance organizations not to inject women with long-acting contraceptive Depo-Provera if they do not understand ramifications of treatment."

Why Is the Birth Rate in Israel's Ethiopian Community Declining?  12/9/2012 Haaretz: "Women say that while waiting in transit camps in Ethiopia they were coaxed into agreeing to injections of long-acting birth control drugs."

Protesters decry Falash Mura indecision  1/8/2010 Jerusalem Post: "Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis gathered in the capital on Sunday morning to protest the government's failure to reach a decision or raise a discussion on the immigration of some 8,700 Ethiopian Jews still waiting to make aliya."

Israel's Treatment of Ethiopians Called 'Racist'  1/5/2010 The Global Report: "Health officials in Israel are subjecting many female Ethiopian immigrants to a controversial long-term birth control drug in what Israeli women's groups allege is a racist policy to reduce the number of black babies. The contraceptive, known as Depo Provera, which is given by injection every three months, is considered by many doctors as a birth control method of last resort because of problems treating its side effects. However, according to a report published last week, use of the contraceptive by Israeli doctors has risen threefold over the past few years. Figures show that 57 percent of Depo Provera users in Israel are Ethiopian, even though the community accounts for less than two percent of the total population. "This is about reducing the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor," said Hedva Eyal, the author of the report by Woman to Woman, a feminist organization based in Haifa, in northern Israel. "The unspoken policy is that only children who are white and Ashkenazi are wanted in Israel," she said, referring to the term for European Jews who founded Israel and continue to dominate its institutions."

Israel’s treatment of Ethiopians ‘racist’  1/5/2010 The National: "Women’s groups were alerted to the widespread use of Depo Provera in the Ethiopian community in 2008 when Rachel Mangoli, who runs a day care centre for 120 Ethiopian children in Bnei Braq, a suburb of Tel Aviv, observed that she had received only one new child in the previous three years. “I started to think about how strange the situation was after I had to send back donated baby clothes because there was no one in the community to give them to,” she said. She approached a local health clinic serving the 55 Ethiopian families in Bnei Braq and was told by the clinic manager that they had been instructed to administer Depo Provera injections to the women of child-bearing age, though he refused to say who had issued the order."

Ethiopian Soldiers Enlighten their Parents about Military Life  12/24/2009 IDF, Israel: "90% of Ethiopians enlist in the IDF, a very high percentage compared to the general society, and a lot of them chose a significant combat service."

Settlers to Ethiopian troops: Niggers don't expel Jews  12/4/2008 Ynet: "Niggers don't expel Jews! This isn't what we brought you to Israel for!" are just some of the degrading slurs Border Guard officers reported hearing from masked settlers.

Falash Mura advocates press UJC to continue funding Ethiopian aliya  11/17/2008 Jerusalem Post 

Help Ethiopians in Israel, not the Falash Mura  11/12/2008 JTA 

Government to approve Aliyah for 1,100 Falashmura  9/10/2008 Ynet: "Gov't to vote on proposal put forward by Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit to bring 1,100 Falashmura Jews to Israel. Thousands more still waiting in Gondar camp. Sheetrit says move doesn't mean Israel now closing its doors to Ethiopians "

Kids have African-Israeli identity, but Ethiopian parents still foreigners  3/28/2004 JTA: "But 20 years after the first major wave of immigration to the Jewish state from Ethiopia, there also are disproportionately high numbers of unemployed and high school dropouts among them. The youth and their parents are a community in transition, the euphoria of their arrival having long been replaced with the hard realities of making a life in modern Israel. “In recent years the economic situation in Israel has been very difficult, but the ones who have suffered most are the Ethiopians,” says Adisu Massala, a former Knesset member who now chairs the United Ethiopian Jewish Organization, an umbrella organization of Ethiopian groups. “They are new to country, have no inside connections when it comes to getting jobs, lack language” skills, he says. “This is a community that came here with nothing.” "

Ethiopians Told to Wait to Come to Israel  1/10/2004 AP 

Plan for Ethiopian Immigrants Collapses  5/30/2003 Forward: "Meanwhile, Israel-based Ethiopian activists are accusing the JDC and Jewish Agency of racial discrimination for spending more to aid Russian and Argentine communities than the Falash Mara starving in Ethiopia. Neguise sent a letter to the JDC, threatening to "protest in every legal manner against the heads of the JDC and the United Jewish Communities," the roof body of North American Jewish charitable federations. The goal, Neguise wrote, is to make leaders of these organizations aware of "the discrimination against our brethren in Ethiopia." The UJC recently allocated $39 million to aid Argentine Jews. Yet its welfare agency caring for the Falash Mura — the JDC — allocates only $600,000 of its $45 million budget from UJC for those in Ethiopia."

Vote on Ethiopians Exposing Aid Rift  2/21/2003 Forward: "The decade-long battle over Ethiopian refugees is shifting to the United States, after the Israeli Cabinet's unanimous vote Sunday approving the immigration of more than 18,000 languishing Ethiopians. At issue is a little-noticed clause in the approved Cabinet resolution that is sparking debate among American Jewish groups over how much aid should be sent to the Ethiopians, who are known as the Falash Mura. The clause calls for an increase in humanitarian assistance to members of the community, made up of people who either converted to Christianity from Judaism under duress or are the descendants of such people." Falasha is a derogatory term, they call themselves Beta Israel. And they are used by the right-wingers in Israel to populate the West Bank and other dangerous areas.

Israel to accept more Ethiopian Jews  2/16/2003 BBC: "About 80,000 Ethiopian Jews already live in Israel. Our correspondent says they remain one of the poorest sections of Israeli society."

Israel to allow 20,000 Ethiopians to enter  2/16/2003 UPI: "The Interior Ministry's spokeswoman, Tova Ellinson, said some 60,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, but the head of the Ethiopian immigrants' umbrella organization, Addisu Messele, Sunday told United Press International there were 100,000… Some 17,000 Falashmura who will be brought to Israel, under Sunday's decision, have been living in a camp in Addis Ababa for as long as 10 years and were supported by an American group -- the North American Conference for Ethiopian Jewry. Some 3,000 to 4,000 others have been living in the northern town of Gonder… The idea is to bring them over gradually over a period of a year or two and do so "quietly" so that the Ethiopian government would not complain, a well-placed Interior Ministry source told UPI." UPI is owned by the Rev Moon.

Critics Charge Racism As Jewish State Places 'Quota' on Ethiopians  12/28/2001 Forward: "Critics are claiming racism is behind what they say is the Israeli government's establishment of a 400-person monthly quota on immigration from Ethiopia — even for those who qualify under the Law of Return. Ethiopian Jewry activists complain that the quota and what they cite as a lack of humanitarian aid from American Jewish philanthropies are doubly offensive because of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent calls for a mass immigration of Jews from Argentina, France, Australia and South Africa. The plight of Ethiopian Jews is being ignored, activists charge, even as Israel and the quasi governmental Jewish Agency for Israel, the main overseas recipient of monies raised by federations within the United Jewish communities system, are investing millions of dollars to encourage immigration from those countries and the former Soviet Union." The drive on Russian Jews is to compensate rising Arab demographics within Greater Israel. See our page on Beta Israel.

Beta-Israel History and Culture  12/24/2001 Almaya, Israel: Ethiopian Jewry in Israel, with special attention to recent history, through the time of the immigration into Israel: "The Beta-Israel immigrants found that Israel is not the biblical Holy Land. They did not find what they expected. There was not a steady flow of "milk and honey", nor were Israelis angels. They were in shock from the journey, from the deaths of close family members, the hardship and suffering. Many young people, who left their extended families behind in Ethiopia and trekked alone to Sudan, lost all contact with their families. On top of the existing trauma and shock from the journey and their arrival, began the difficulties of absorption. Israel was a Western country that they did not understand and was very different from what they knew or expected. Knowledge in Israel about Ethiopian Jews, their history, habits, foods, language, way of life and hardships was almost nonexistent. The Beta-Israel absorption difficulties were far greater than those faced by newcomers from Europe, Asia, North Africa and North and South America."

ETHIOPIAN JEWRY PAGE  12/24/2001 North American Conference on Ethiopean Jewry: Jews in Ethiopea by Jews in Ethiopea

Falash Mura Crisis Heats Up After Controversial Report  7/12/2001 Jewish Telegraphic Agency 

In focus: Shebaa farms  5/25/2000 BBC: Israel uses Beta Israel as cannon fodder - "A group of farms close to the poorly-defined border of Lebanon and Syria has emerged as a potential new flashpoint for conflict between Israel and Lebanese Muslim guerrillas…. According to some reports, Israel moved Ethiopian Jews, known as Falashas, to the Shebaa farms in the 1980s."

History

The origins of Beta Israel are lost in time, but several theories exist. They are ancient and attested in history back to the 14th century. Beta Israel lived apart from world jewry until the 20's, when Dr. Jacques Faitlovitch, a Polish-born Jew, took up their cause and plugged them into the Zionist movement. They have become increasingly caught up in the polarization of the Middle East. The civil war and famine that had devastated a good half of Ethiopea between the 1970s and 1980s finally drove nearly all of Beta Israel into "the promised land" in the 1990s. They came to have no other choice but to emigrate to Israel in order to survive.

There are some 20,000 members still in Ethiopea, most of whom are termed Falasha Mura. These are Beta Israels who lost their religion, generally through forced conversion. Most have taken it up again, but during the earlier airlifts, they were discriminated against by the Israelis who declared that they were not truly Jewish. 

After arranging their transport to Israel, the Israeli government has made us of them as cannon fodder, to stock settlements on the West Bank and in other dangerous areas such as the Shebaa Farms on the northern border.

Links

Ethiopian Jews (Or Beta Israel) - Africana.com
www.africana.com/Articles/tt_388.htm

Ethiopia's Jews: The last exodus, BBC, 6/23/99
news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid_376000/376225.stm

North American Conference on Ethiopean Jewry
www.circus.org/

The Evolution of the Ethiopian Jews: A History of the Beta Israel (Falasha) to 1920
www.sistahspace.com/jewish/evolu.html

Travel Agent Fam Trips to Ethiopia from Western Canada and USA
www.africa-ata.org/fam_trips.htm

 

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