“Gather Our Dispersed from the Four Corners of the Earth”

April 1, 2000
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Avraham Neguise

Gebyanesh Zemene Alemu was waiting in Addis Ababa with her three children since 1997, clinging to the hope of making aliyah, immigrating to Israel. Her married brother and sister and their families were also there. A woman in her thirties, Gebyanesh had her whole future to look forward to if only she and her children could join her parents and unmarried siblings living in Netanya (they had immigrated in 1995). But Gebyanesh’s application to immigrate was never processed despite constant inquiries from her father. She died last August. Her three children are still in Ethiopia, cared for by the sister.

Tewabech Yehwalesht Dessie was in her 60s in 1997 when she left her village for Addis Ababa along with seven of her married children and their families. She already had one married son living in Beersheva. All of her brothers and sisters also lived in Israel. Her elderly mother had immigrated in 1993. Not long after her mother had arrived, family members in Israel submitted an application to the Ministry of Interior’s office in Jerusalem for Tewabech to make aliyah. On it they clearly stated that she was in poor health and needed medical treatment unavailable in Ethiopia. Years passed with no response. Finally, in 1999 processiing began and in November, Tewabech and her children were invited to the Israeli Embassy in Addis for an interview. The necessary forms were completed and sent to Jerusalem. A second interview was required and additional forms completed. While awaiting a response, Tewabech died. Three days later, a fax arrived granting her permission to immigrate. Two weeks after burying their mother in Ethiopia, all seven of her children and their families made aliyah.

Both women had the right to immigrate under the provisions of the Israeli Law of Return. Like hundreds of others, these women are the tragic victims of the unjust Israeli governmental policies imposed on the remaining Beta Israel (the so-called Falas Mura) in Ethiopia. For instance, it is impossible for a Beta Israel in Ethiopia to apply for aliyah–all applications must be submitted by relatives already in Israel. Once the forms are received, those in Ethiopia must wait, sometimes years, to be invited for an interview. If they are lucky, there is a consul from the Ministry of the Interior working in Ethiopia who can meet with them. To make matters worse, American Jewish relief organizations are discouraged from providing assistance to the Falas Mura who have left their villages and gathered in Addis Ababa and Gondar.

There are still 26,000 Beta Israel in Ethiopia, 18,000 of whom are in Addis and Gondar living as refugees in their own country, struggling to survive on the less than adequate humanitarian relief they receive. The rest are still in their villages. It is not the minimal food and medical care that draws the people to Addis and Gondar; conditions are clearly better in the villages. It is the location of the Israeli Embassy in Addis and the Israeli consulate in Gondar, the only sites where interviews for aliyah are possible.

The future of the last remnants of the Ethiopian Jewish community hangs in a cruel limbo. The people are needlessly suffering and dying as the Israeli government drags its feet on the aliyah process. Right now, we are at a critical historic crossroad: Will the rescue of the Beta Israel end as a bitter tragedy or as a triumphant victory for all the Jewish people?

May the One who performed miracles for our ancestors and redeemed them from slavery to freedom, redeem us soon and gather our dispersed from the four corners of the earth; united in fellowship is all of Israel. Blessing for Rosh Chodesh

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Avraham Neguise is a professional social worker and Director of South Wing to Zion, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization created and managed by Ethiopian Jews. Born in Gondar, Ethiopia in 1958, Neguise made aliyah in 1985.

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