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From the Jerusalem Post Newspaper:
Knesset c'tee demands speedier probe of Gondar Falash Mura

By Dan Izenberg

May 25, 2010


A parliamentary inquiry will be launched if those involved in facilitating aliya from Ethiopia do not restart processing, within the next two months, the applications of thousands of Falash Mura still waiting to immigrate, Knesset State Control Committee chairman Yoel Hasson threatened Tuesday.

"This aliya has taken far too long," Hasson admonished representatives of the Jewish Agency and the interior, finance and foreign ministries, during a joint session with the Aliya, Immigration and Diaspora Committee.

"I simply do not understand why this has happened," he went on. "We have an interior minister who is in favor of this aliya, as opposed to previous ministers who have been against bringing these people; he has even authorized Interior Ministry officials to use funds from other sources for this purpose, so I just don't understand why this aliya is not progressing."

Hasson also said he planned to immediately establish a subcommittee to monitor the progress of the Falash Mura aliya and demand answers as to why it had become so complicated.

Together with Aliya, Immigration and Diaspora Committee chairwoman Lia Shemtov, Hasson heard from MKs Shlomo Molla (Kadima), Avraham Michaeli (Shas) and Arye Eldad (National Union) - who visited Ethiopia last week - about how the immigration of some 8,700 Ethiopian Jews had been stalled for more than a year.

This was despite clear government directives to continue the flow of aliya, and a report by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss in September 2008 to start bringing the people to Israel.

Lindenstrauss, who was also present at Tuesday's meeting, told The Jerusalem Post afterward that a failure to allot enough financial resources, and a lack of coordination between those facilitating the aliya, had caused the current stalemate.

"Since I published my report this last year, I can see that nothing has changed in this situation at all," he told the committee.

Molla - who issued an all-encompassing report Monday evening on the failure to bring those waiting on aliya, and the growing humanitarian crisis faced by thousands of people in the town of Gondar - told the committee that a comprehensive plan for mass aliya of the 8,700 was the only way to deal with the situation.

Falash Mura are Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Christianity more than a century ago. Under a 2003 government decision and following recognition of their Jewish heritage by the Chief Rabbinate, the Falash Mura are entitled to immigrate under the Law of Entry according to specific criteria. Many of those who have applied to come to Israel have close family members already living here.

"Those who are still waiting in Gondar are living in terrible conditions," Michaeli told the committee. "If they are not eligible to make aliya, then they should be told that - but we must at least check their applications and give them some answers."

According to Molla and Michaeli, even though some 2,500 people have been checked for immigration eligibility by representatives of the Interior Ministry based in Gondar, not one has received a definitive answer on whether they will be able to make aliya.

Interior Ministry representative Amos Arbel said that his office was working according to Israeli law, and blamed the slow processing of applications on bureaucratic and financial difficulties.

However, "at the end of the day, we are talking about people," countered National Union MK Uri Ariel. "We are talking about mothers, brothers, sisters and other relatives who just want to be reunited with their families in the State of Israel."

The committee heard from several Israeli Ethiopian families about the struggle they faced in bringing their relatives to Israel, including a young soldier who described the hardships of having a sister still living in Gondar.

"These stories are just a drop in the ocean," stated Shemtov. "Almost all those in the Falash Mura community here have close relatives still inEthiopia, and we need to do more to reunite them."



From the Jerusalem Post Newspaper:
Inquiry threatened if Falash Mura aliya not sped up

By Ruth Eglash

Dec. 9, 2009


A parliamentary inquiry will be launched if those involved in facilitating aliya from Ethiopia do not restart processing, within the next two months, the applications of thousands of Falash Mura still waiting to immigrate, Knesset State Control Committee chairman Yoel Hasson threatened Tuesday.

"This aliya has taken far too long," Hasson admonished representatives of the Jewish Agency and the interior, finance and foreign ministries, during a joint session with the Aliya, Immigration and Diaspora Committee.

"I simply do not understand why this has happened," he went on. "We have an interior minister who is in favor of this aliya, as opposed to previous ministers who have been against bringing these people; he has even authorized Interior Ministry officials to use funds from other sources for this purpose, so I just don't understand why this aliya is not progressing."

Hasson also said he planned to immediately establish a subcommittee to monitor the progress of the Falash Mura aliya and demand answers as to why it had become so complicated.

Together with Aliya, Immigration and Diaspora Committee chairwoman Lia Shemtov, Hasson heard from MKs Shlomo Molla (Kadima), Avraham Michaeli (Shas) and Arye Eldad (National Union) - who visited Ethiopia last week - about how the immigration of some 8,700 Ethiopian Jews had been stalled for more than a year.

This was despite clear government directives to continue the flow of aliya, and a report by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss in September 2008 to start bringing the people to Israel.

Lindenstrauss, who was also present at Tuesday's meeting, told The Jerusalem Post afterward that a failure to allot enough financial resources, and a lack of coordination between those facilitating the aliya, had caused the current stalemate.

"Since I published my report this last year, I can see that nothing has changed in this situation at all," he told the committee.

Molla - who issued an all-encompassing report Monday evening on the failure to bring those waiting on aliya, and the growing humanitarian crisis faced by thousands of people in the town of Gondar - told the committee that a comprehensive plan for mass aliya of the 8,700 was the only way to deal with the situation.

Falash Mura are Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Christianity more than a century ago. Under a 2003 government decision and following recognition of their Jewish heritage by the Chief Rabbinate, the Falash Mura are entitled to immigrate under the Law of Entry according to specific criteria. Many of those who have applied to come to Israel have close family members already living here.

"Those who are still waiting in Gondar are living in terrible conditions," Michaeli told the committee. "If they are not eligible to make aliya, then they should be told that - but we must at least check their applications and give them some answers."

According to Molla and Michaeli, even though some 2,500 people have been checked for immigration eligibility by representatives of the Interior Ministry based in Gondar, not one has received a definitive answer on whether they will be able to make aliya.

Interior Ministry representative Amos Arbel said that his office was working according to Israeli law, and blamed the slow processing of applications on bureaucratic and financial difficulties.

However, "at the end of the day, we are talking about people," countered National Union MK Uri Ariel. "We are talking about mothers, brothers, sisters and other relatives who just want to be reunited with their families in the State of Israel."

The committee heard from several Israeli Ethiopian families about the struggle they faced in bringing their relatives to Israel, including a young soldier who described the hardships of having a sister still living in Gondar.

"These stories are just a drop in the ocean," stated Shemtov. "Almost all those in the Falash Mura community here have close relatives still inEthiopia, and we need to do more to reunite them."


From the Jerusalem Post Newspaper:
Falash Mura must be brought to Israel

By Ruth Eglash

Dec. 8, 2009


The Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel must immediately restart the stalled immigration process from Ethiopia and the organized Jewish community in the US must provide the funding for it, said Kadima MK Shlomo Molla, who headed a delegation of three MKs to Ethiopia last week and will present his findings to a special session of the Knesset on Tuesday.

"The humanitarian situation in Gondar [where those waiting to immigrate are based] is very difficult," Molla told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "It is the responsibility of the State of Israel to recognize these people for aliya and it is up to the Jewish Agency to bring them here."

Molla, who will present his report to a joint session of the Knesset's State Control and Aliya, Immigration and Diaspora committees, said he also planned to send the report to the Jewish Federations of North America and would call on it to implement a special operation, similar to 2005's Operation Promise, to bring those still remaining in Ethiopia to Israel as soon as possible.

"The Jewish Agency needs to go in and help these people tomorrow," said Molla, adding that there are some 8,700 Falash Mura - Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors were forcibly converted to Christianity - still waiting to emigrate.

Most of those are believed to fit the criteria for aliya laid out by previous Israeli governments and many have family members already living here.

Abra Mulla, an Ethiopian immigrant now based in Lod, said his sister and her family are still stuck in Gondar with little, if any, humanitarian aid or medical assistance.

"I have to send her money each month in order for her to survive," Mulla told the Post. "I have been trying to help her make aliya for more than five years but every time I go to the Interior Ministry, they tell me they cannot help me."

Mulla's story is shared by many in the 110,000-strong Ethiopian community in Israel, who have been separated from relatives due to the ongoing debate over this aliya, which some believe has become too costly.

A spokesman for JAFI said that Tuesday's Knesset session would likely determine if and when the organization returns to Ethiopia to facilitate aliya from there.

"The Jewish Agency assumes responsibility for such a process only when it receives specific directives from the government," he said, adding "all humanitarian aid is provided in the area by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee [JDC] and the North American Coalition on Ethiopian Jewry."

MK Molla, however, was critical of JAFI's failure to implement existing government policies, pointing out that a decision was made in September 2008 to continue the flow of aliya from Ethiopia.

"The government of Israel did make a decision to continue checking people," he said. "And at the end of the day, the body responsible for bringing these people to Israel is theJewish Agency."

Molla's push for continuing aliya from Ethiopia comes just two weeks after the JDC reopened its medical facility in Gondar and following an informal announcement byJewish Agency Executive Chairman Natan Sharansky that he was in favor of bringing in those who remain.


From the Jerusalem Post Newspaper:
Exclusive: Vital Jewish health clinic re-opens in Gondar

By Ruth Eglash

Nov. 27, 2009


The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)-run health clinic in Gondar, which has remained closed since last May, officially re-opened its doors Thursday following a quarter-of-a-million dollar donation from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) and an anonymous US donor, The Jerusalem Post was told Thursday.

According to a JDC spokeswoman, IFCJ founder and President Yehiel Eckstein provided a $125,000 grant for the clinic and his donation was matched by a donor from New York.

"We are very pleased that we are able to respond to the Israeli government's request to re-open the clinic," Steven Schweger, Chief Executive Officer of the JDC, told the Post. "We were able to do so due to funding from Rabbi Eckstein and an American Jewish donor."

Earlier this month, the JDC announced that it was preparing to re-open the clinic, which had been providing basic medical and sometimes life-saving health services to thousands of Falash Mura (Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity centuries ago) waiting to immigrate to Israel.

While there were initial indications that the Israeli government would provide funding for the clinic, after they failed to materialize the JDC sought funding from private sources.

The re-opening of the Gondar clinic comes a week after Jewish Agency for Israel Executive Chairman Natan Sharansky told Jewish leaders in Philadelphia that he was in favor of bringing the remaining Ethiopian Jews to Israel if their Jewish ancestry could be proved.

It also follows some two years of contradictory decisions over continuing immigration from the East African country. In July 2007, it was announced that aliya from Ethiopia was almost over and in January 2008, the Interior Ministry recalled its staff from Gondar.

Protests from the local community, US Jewry and Israeli legislators, however, pointing out that thousands of Falash Mura were still eligible for immigration caused the government to rethink its decision and in September 2008 the Interior Ministry said its representatives would return to Ethiopia and continue checking the eligibility for aliya of some 3,000 people.

Less than a year later, however, the matter came under doubt again when a section of the 2009 Economic Arrangements Bill claimed that the overall aliya process for the Falash Mura community was too costly and suggested that previous government decisions be reversed. Under pressure from the pro-Falash Mura lobby, however, this section was dropped from the bill.

When the JDC clinic was closed last spring that also came under fire, with critics claiming that the Falash Mura, who are already learning Hebrew and various Jewish practices, had no alternative medical care.

Now, with the Gondar clinic re-opening, the Jewish Agency looking to increase its role in the area and Interior Minister Eli Yishai actively supportive, it seems that Ethiopian aliya is back on the agenda.


From the Jerusalem Post Newspaper:
Sharansky pushes for Falash Mura aliya

By Ruth Eglash

Nov 26, 2009


The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) may increase its role and use its influence to push the government to step up efforts and bring to Israel more than 8,000 members of the Falash Mura community remaining in Ethiopia, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

In a meeting held last week between representatives of the Jewish Community Federation of Greater Philadelphia and JAFI Executive Chairman Natan Sharansky, the JAFI head said that he was in favor of bringing the remaining Ethiopian Jews - most of whom are cared for at a North American Coalition on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ)-run camp in Gondar - to Israel if their Jewish ancestry could be proved and that he would even be interested in taking over some of NACOEJ's responsibilities in Ethiopia.

Responding directly to a question from Kenneth Kaiserman, a federation trustee and co-chair of the Center for Israel and Overseas, Sharansky also said he planned to meet next week with Interior Minister Eli Yishai to push for increased efforts to bring in those Falash Mura (Ethiopians of Jewish origin whose ancestors converted to Christianity centuries ago) who fit the government's criteria.

A spokesman for JAFI told the Post that this was indeed the direction Sharansky was taking, but would not confirm whether all or part of what was reported from the meeting was accurate.

He did say, however, that JAFI representatives, including Sharansky, were set to meet next week with Yishai.

"If this is true then it's really good news, the best news I've heard in ages," commented Dr. Avraham Neguise, executive director of South Wing to Zion, a grass-roots organization that has been lobbying for the government to continue the Falash Mura aliya.

"We have been saying for ages that JAFI should continue its work in Ethiopia and if it really moves in this direction then the organization will go down in the history books."

JAFI's vocal support for continuing aliya from the east African country is an about-face from its hesitant approach over the last two years and follows an ongoing debate over the increasing costs and social problems presented by the Ethiopian immigration process.

In July 2007, senior JAFI official in Ethiopia Ori Konforti told the Post that all remaining Ethiopians eligible under Israeli government criteria to make aliya would be in Israel within one year. Indeed, following that announcement, organizations working in the region did appear to be winding down their operations there, with the Interior Ministry even recalling its Gondar-based staff in January 2008.

However, subsequent protests from local community members, representatives of North American Jewry and several key Israeli legislators pointed out that some 9,000-15,000 Falash Mura still needed to be assessed for immigration, causing the government to rethink the decision.

In September 2008, the Interior Ministry announced that its representatives would return to Ethiopia and continue checking the eligibility for aliya of some 3,000 people.

Less than a year later, however, the matter was in doubt again when a section of the 2009 Economic Arrangements Bill claimed that the overall aliya process for the Falash Mura community was too costly and suggested that previous government decisions be reversed. Under pressure from the pro-Falash Mura lobby, however, this section was dropped from the bill.

In addition, a health clinic run by the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which had been providing both basic and life-saving treatments to the Jewish community in Gondar, closed its doors in May, leaving many in the community without services.

Earlier this month, however, a spokeswoman for the JDC told the Post that the organization planned to reopen the clinic in the near future.

Neguise said that his contacts in Gondar had informed him earlier this week that registration for the clinic was to begin on Thursday.

"The community is in a very bad state," he said. "They are living in Gondar, waiting for aliya, and they have no way to return to their villages."

Neguise added, however, "We are moving in a positive direction and I am very optimistic now that everyone will soon realize the need to bring in these people."


From the Jerusalem Post Newspaper:
Doctor: Closed clinic may mean future olim will die

By Ruth Eglash

Sep. 18, 2009


Delays by the government and the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in reopening a health clinic in the northern Ethiopian province of Gondar could have fatal consequences for the Jews there waiting to be approved for aliya, a prominent Israeli doctor told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

"The people there are potentially suffering from malnutrition and other problems that if treated by a primary healthcare physician could be avoided," Dr. Arthur I. Eidelman, former head of pediatrics at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, told the Post.

Eidelman, who was in Gondar last week and visited a hospital serving the general population, said that he came across a young Jewish boy with serious complications of bacterial meningitis that he believes could have been prevented if he'd received consistent medical care.

The Joint Distribution Committee clinic, which had served the local Jews for the past few years, was closed two months ago, and community members were urged to seek alternative medical facilities. According to Eidelman, there are very few such options available.

"It does not make any sense. These people have already been recognized as Jews by a rabbinic authority, and the Israeli government has agreed to consider them for aliya, but there are no medical services to protect them from basic health problems," he said. Their medical issues could end up following them to Israel, he said.

A spokesman for Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), who recently visited Ethiopia and has been active in reigniting the flow of aliya from there, said the JDC had been approached at least twice in the past few months to reopen its clinic, but the minister has yet to receive an answer.

The JDC confirmed on Thursday that it had been approached by Yishai to consider reopening its clinic in Gondar.

"We are in a process of discussions," explained spokeswoman Orly Doron. "We need to see how much it would cost and how many people need to be served."

She said that if negotiations between the JDC and the government were successful, the clinic could be opened as early as next week.

The clinic, which was providing services to some 8,700 Falash Mura - Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity in the 19th century - closed its doors on July 1 following an Israeli government announcement in 2008 that Ethiopian aliya had come to an end.

Although the Interior Ministry had already recalled its Gondar-based staff, and other Israeli and Jewish organizations working there had started to wind down activities, an outcry from local community members, representatives of North American Jewry and several key Israeli legislators claiming there are still thousands more Falash Mura who fit the criteria for aliya forced the government to reassess its decision.

In July, immediately following the closure of the clinic, the Interior Ministry announced that it would resume eligibility checks through September for an initial 3,000 people. Yishai's spokesman said on Thursday that these checks had already started but none of those waiting had yet reached Israel.

"I just hope that if the clinic reopens, it will not only be for those being checked by the Israeli government," Eidelman said. "The JDC funds many projects in Ethiopia, some of them for the non-Jewish population, too, so why shouldn't they help these Jews who have fallen through the cracks?"


From the Jerusalem Post Newspaper:
Immigrant compound opens in northern Ethiopia

By Melissa Radler

June 27, 2001


A community compound for 10,000 Ethiopian Jews awaiting aliyah to Israel opened yesterday in the nation's northern Gondar province.

Sponsored by New York-based advocacy group Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ), the compound features an emergency food distribution area that is aimed at feeding children under five and pregnant and nursing mothers, as well as a synagogue, mikveh and adult education center, said SSEJ official Jeremy Feit.

The feeding programs, he said, are to be paid for by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry.

"Hopefully the new compound will build confidence and alleviate some of the major sufferings of the community," said Feit.

Last month, a report on Ethiopian Jewry awaiting immigration to Israel that was released by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said: "Even by the standards of displaced people in Ethiopia, their health, nutritional, housing and sanitary conditions are appalling." The report called the assistance provided by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which claims to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical and nutritional aid, "inadequate."

Some 3,500 Ethiopian Jews have been found to be eligible for aliyah so far this year out of 26,000 applicants from Gondar, Addis Ababa and surrounding villages.


 
From the Jerusalem Post Newspaper:
Survey finds severe disease among Falash Mura

By Jerusalem Post Staff

Nov 10, 2000


NEW YORK (November 10) - A survey conducted by members of the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry, an advocacy group based in New York, is reporting widespread disease and malnutrition among the Falash Mura, the Ethiopian Jews who want to immigrate to Israel.

The SSEJ survey found that the Falash Mura are experiencing much greater hunger and disease than the general Ethiopian population. It found that 55% of children under five are stunted, 16% are abnormally underweight, and nearly 60% of children reported being sick in a two-week period. Six times more severely underweight children were found among the Falash Mura than
among the general population.

Among mothers, 50% have goiter, indicating iodine deficiency, a condition that can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and retarded fetal growth. More than 24% of children were found to have goiter, the study said.

The survey was conducted over a three-month period, and examined 4,000 of Addis Ababa's 8,000 Falash Mura.

The survey was conducted by two doctors, Tezera Fisseha Chernet and Hana Neka-Tibeb, and a nutritionist, Sampson Taffesse Asfaw. All three have worked for non-governmental organizations such as the United Nations Children's Fund, USAID, and the World Health Organization, as well as for the Ethiopian
government.

The report's findings cast doubt on statements and statistics put out by organizations that are responsible for the needs of world Jewry overseas - the United Jewish Communities and the UJC-funded American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Yesterday, the Joint reported that the mortality rate among the Falash Mura in Addis Ababa and Gondar, where the Joint provides medical and nutritional programs, is eight per thousand, which is the same as in the US. But the SSEJ says the mortality rate is higher that that, although its study did not focus on mortality.

Lorraine Blass, interim director of the UJC's Israel and overseas division - who has been on two fact-finding missions to Ethiopia in the past six months - said, "Our findings are not consistent with what it described in the press release." Blass said the UJC plans to release its own report on Monday. She also said that she had not read the SSEJ's report.

While the Joint did not directly criticize the medical report, a Joint release stated that the SSEJ "did not liaise with our own medical staff and that we had to learn of their findings through the media." E-mails from the SSEJ, however, show that officials at the UJC and Joint received copies of the press release and medical report on Tuesday. "We requested a meeting and they have not responded to us," said Eric Gomberg, SSEJ president.

This coming Tuesday, the UJC plans to host a panel discussion on Ethiopian immigration and absorption in Israel during its General Assembly in Chicago.

The SSEJ and the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, which provides daily lunches to 5,000 children in Ethiopia, were left off the panel, and the UJC does not plan to distribute copies of the SSEJ's medical report, Blass said.

The General Assembly Web site, however, features an SSEJ essay entitled "Dying to Make Aliyah" and the organization's medical report. "It is disheartening that American Jewry has failed in its historic obligation to help a fellow Diaspora Jewish community that desperately needs assistance," the essay states. "While the limited health care provided by the Joint is a start, the UJC must do more to provide food and shelter to the Jews in Ethiopia so that more children do not die needlessly while awaiting passage to their homeland."

Yosef Abramowitz, an expert on Ethiopian Jewry and the publisher of Sh'ma, said, "This report, conducted by respected Ethiopian doctors, should serve as a wakeup call, on the eve of the GA, that the American Jewish community is failing terribly in meeting our overseas responsibilities."

Other Ethiopian advocacy groups have come out in support of SSEJ's claim that American Jewry has not done enough to help the Falash Mura.

Barbara Ribikove Gordon, executive director of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, - who had not yet read the SSEJ report - said, "We have always felt there was a tremendous amount of malnutrition in the community."

Avraham Neguise, director of South Wing to Zion, who has advocated for increased funding for the Falash Mura, said, "This report confirms what we have been saying every time, that the community is in a very desperate situation, and that the Jewish humanitarian organizations have to help this community."

A spokesman for the Jewish Agency, which is responsible for absorbing immigrants in Israel, said that since the holidays the Agency has brought over a planeload of Falash Mura to Israel every Tuesday.

 


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