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An independent assessment conducted by Refugees International on the situation in Ethiopia . Refugees International works around the world on behalf of vulnerable populations. Refugees Internationals staff conducts on-the-ground humanitarian assessments and presses governments, The United Nations and aid agencies to respond more rapidly and effectively to humanitarian emergencies. Refugees international can be contacted in Washington, DC at (202) 828-0819.
The Last Jews in Ethiopia
Tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews have immigrated to Israel over the last several decades. The legal authority governing the aliyah (immigration) of most of the Ethiopian Jews is the Israeli Law of Return which grants all Jews the right to immigrate to Israel.
Operation Solomon, a massive airlift in 1991, was intended to complete the aliyah of most Ethiopian Jews, but two groups of persons claiming to be Jews were left behind (1) 6,000 people from upper and lower Quara; and, (2) a larger number of Falas Mora - Judaic Ethiopians who have abandoned or forgotten some Jewish religious practices and were partially assimilated into the majority Christian population.
Persons from upper Quara were taken to Israel in 1992-93. Those from lower Quara were recognized as Jews by Israeli authorities and promised aliyah quickly, but many of them have now been waiting for years for permission from Israel to immigrate. Processing in Israel for the aliyah of the lower Quara Jews has been extremely slow, prompting charges of bureaucratic obstruction and discrimination by Israeli authorities against Ethiopians
The Falas Mora are recognized by many Jewish religious authorities as Jews, but the Israeli government denies their claims and opposes their immigration to Israel. However, in 1997 and 1998, the Israelis relented by permitting the immigration of almost 5,000 Falas Mora, most of whom had been left behind - literally left standing at the Israeli Embassy gate - when the Operation Solomon airlift concluded. We were told that almost 40 percent of these people qualified to go to Israel under the Law of Return.
There are now an additional estimated 15,000 Falas Mora, primarily in the cities of Addis Ababa and Gonder, who desire immigration to Israel. Many of them allege they have been forced from their village homes by persecution and fled to the cities. The government of Israel denies any responsibility for these Falas Mora, although many of them have close relatives living in Israel and might qualify for aliyah to Israel under the Law of Return. Israel has also discouraged Jewish humanitarian organizations from providing aid to the Falas Mora and the Quarans.
The author visited Ethiopia to determine if the Falas Mora were being persecuted and to assess their humanitarian situation.
Ms. Mary Ann Stein, President of the Moriah Fund, asked Refugees International to undertake an independent study of the Falas Mora people in Ethiopia. Refugees International is a non-governmental advocacy organization, founded in 1979, which works on behalf of vulnerable people around the world.
Our study had two principal objectives:
Falas Mora is a term referring to persons of Jewish ancestry in Ethiopia who abandoned or forgot some Jewish religious practices and were partially assimilated into the majority Christian population. Judaic Ethiopians, including the people we now call Falas Mora, are commonly called "Falasha" by Ethiopians, a derogatory term meaning "stranger" or "immigrant." Ethiopian Jews and the Falas Mora call themselves Beta Israel.
After consultations with authorities in the United States, the author visited Ethiopia from October 19 to November 2, 1998, accompanied during most of the visit by Ms. Stein and Mr. Bruce Beal, who is associated with the Harvard School of Public Health. Benjamin Terefe, a non-Jewish Ethiopian, was our interpreter.
Although the mission to Ethiopia was a joint endeavor, the views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily coincide with those of Ms. Stein, Mr. Beal, or any other person.
In Ethiopia, we met with the Ambassadors of the United States and Israel;
Embassy officials of the United States, Israel, and Canada; representatives
of UN agencies and non-governmental humanitarian organizations, including
the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the North American Conference
on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ); Jewish and Christian clergymen, including
the chief Kes (religious leader) of the Ethiopian Jewish community in
Israel; and, scholars familiar with Ethiopian history and culture. We
The Israeli Consul in Gonder, an employee of the Ministry of Interior who has responsibility for immigration matters, was denied permission by his superiors in Israel to meet with us. This is unfortunate as he would have been able to shed some light on the process by which Ethiopian Jews are considered for permission to immigrate to Israel.
The Ethiopian JewsBackground
The history of Jews in Ethiopia goes back thousands of years. In the past, they comprised a sizable percentage of the population. Israeli Embassy officials cited to us estimates that Ethiopian Jews numbered from 160,000 to 250,000 in 1905. Their numbers declined as many Jews converted to Christianity, were absorbed into the Christian population, and lost their identity as Jews.
During the past two decades the Israeli government and Jewish organizations have facilitated the immigration of tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The aliyah of most of the Ethiopian Jews was authorized under the Israeli Law of Return which states that "every Jew has the right to come to Israel as an oleh (immigrant)." The question of whether the Falas Mora should be allowed to immigrate under the Law of Return is hotly debated in Israel.
In 1991, a massive airlift, Operation Solomon, transported over 14,000 Jews to Israel in two days. It was believed at that time that Operation Solomon substantially completed the aliyah of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. However, two groups of persons claiming to be Jews were left behind in Ethiopia.
Who are the Falas Mora?
As mentioned above, the identification of the Falas Mora as Jews is controversial. Likewise, it is alleged that among the Falas Mora are many impostors, i.e. persons masquerading as Jews with the objective of immigrating to Israel. Thus, we questioned all our informants on the differences between Christians and Falasha, as persons of Jewish heritage are commonly called.
The Falasha have been intermittently persecuted over the last several
hundred years. They occupied the lower rungs of class structure in Ethiopian
society. The Falasha were the blacksmiths, weavers, and potters of northwestern
Ethiopia. All three of these occupations, according to Ethiopian scholar
Richard Pankhurst, "long constituted an isolated, and largely despised,
class which consisted of both women and men." Blacksmiths, in particular,
have a sinister reputation. Falasha "craftsmen
Buda is still a common epithet thrown out at the Falas Mora by their Christian neighbors, according to the persons we interviewed.
Given the low social status of the Falasha, intermarriage with their
Christian neighbors was not common, but it obviously occurred as large
numbers of Falasha were absorbed over centuries into the Christian community.
As genealogy and ethnic identification are important in Ethiopia, it
is likely that many Ethiopian Christians of today could identify Falasha
ancestors. But a Christian missionary historian with whom I spoke offered
the opinion that ethnic identity is strong enough in Ethiopia that very
We asked nearly everyone how the people who call themselves Beta Israel (and are called Falasha by the Christians) were distinguishable from Christians. The almost universal immediate answer was that "everybody knows" who is a Beta Israel (Falasha). How do they know? Ethiopians know their heritage. Identification as a Falasha cannot be readily erased even if the person attempts to assimilate. It would appear that identification as a Falasha is handed down at least to the first generation of children who are raised as Christians.
As the Falas Mora are considered to be Christian converts of Jewish heritage, we explored the degree of their conversion. The Christians generally said that the Falasha were welcomed into their Churches and their children baptized, although "everyone knew" they were Falasha.
The Falas Mora tell a different story. Many of them denied that they had ever been Christians. Some of them converted to Christianity, they admitted, but most of the conversions were only nominal, often comprising no more than forgetting or not practicing some Jewish religious customs or eating Christian (non-Kosher) meat.
Moreover, the Falas Mora continued to live apart from their Christian neighbors. Intermarriage was rare. Christians would not allow their children to marry Falas Mora and Falas Mora would not marry Christians. Christians continued to call them derogatory terms such as "Buda" or "Khaila," to throw stones at their children, and to deny them the right to go to school or possess land. Several Christians also confirmed that the "Falasha" were despised and ill-treated.
There are also reports dating from the 1950s and 1960s that the Falas Mora continued to observe, openly or secretly, some Jewish practices. (See Messing, Simon D., The Story of the FalashasBlack Jews of Ethiopia, Brooklyn 1982, pgs. 93 ff.).
Many Falas Mora have crosses tattooed on their foreheads and we asked them to explain why. They said the crosses were "decorations" or "charms" and did not indicate they were Christians. Christian clergymen contradicted this assertion. A cross tattooed on the forehead, they said, was a fairly sure sign that the person had been baptized. However, one Ethiopian Christian clergyman said that he had seen crosses on the foreheads of many of the Beta Israel immigrants to Israel in 1984 (Operation Moses) and 1991 (Operation Solomon). Thus, the crosses tattooed on the foreheads of many Falas Mora may not distinguish them from many of their Judaic relatives who have already immigrated to Israel.
A plausible scenario for the history of many of the Falas Mora in this
century would be the following. The reigns of Menelik and Haile Selasie
(1889-1974) were periods of modernization and unification of the Ethiopian
state. With the traditional feudalism of the countryside breaking down,
non-Christians, including Ethiopian Jews, saw that their access to land,
education, and economic opportunity would be enhanced if they converted
to Christianity and many did so. At the same time, for reasons unclear
to us, the
When Haile Selasie was overthrown in 1974, Ethiopia came under the rule of a Communist government, the Dergue. The Dergue, brutal and inefficient though it was, upset traditional land-holding practices in the countryside and some of the Beta Israel or Falasha seem to have gained access to land and cattle and moved up in the social scale from artisans to farmers.
In 1991 the Dergue was overthrown and a relatively benign government
took power. In the countryside, however, former landholders moved to
take back the land they had lost under the Dergue and the remaining
Beta Israel - now being called the Falas Mora - were dispossessed of
their recently-acquired land. This dispossession was accompanied by
violence in some instanceshouse burnings, persecution, rape, even a
few reported murders. The Falas Mora are not the only people who lost
their land. Dergue supporters
The capability of the Falas Mora to resist dispossession and persecution was reduced by the fact that the majority of Judaic Ethiopians had immigrated to Israel and the community left behind was smaller in number. For example, a 1992 census of the village of Buchara counted 710 Falas Mora families comprising 2,986 persons. In October 1998, we were able to locate only four Falas Mora residents of Buchara. The Falas Mora community of Buchara is now divided among Israel, Addis Ababa, and Gonder.
The once-numerous Falasha, or Beta Israel, or Falas Mora - whatever they may be called - have all but ceased to exist in the countryside of Ethiopia.
How Many Falas Mora are there?
The Judaic - influenced population of Ethiopian can be divided into three groups
This section will examine the population of the Falas Mora and look also at the issue of whether additional Ethiopians with Jewish ancestors might also claim a right to immigrate to Israel as Jews.
Estimates of the Falas Mora population in Ethiopia range upwards from 15,000. The known Falas Mora population is approximately as follows
Abraham Neguise, leader of the Ethiopian advocacy organization, South
Wing to Zion, estimates there are 16,000 Falas Mora in Ethiopia and
about 2,000 Quara Jews. The Chief Kes, who had not conducted a census,
estimated there are 25,000 Falas Mora and Beta Israel, but this number
could reach as high as 40,000. Various censuses and registrations of
the Judaic population of Ethiopia have been conducted since the 1970s.
It seems unlikely that large, unknown populations of Judaic Ethiopians
However, as pointed out above, it is undeniable that a much larger
number of people in Ethiopia have Jewish ancestors. The apprehension
is often expressed that they might come forward and attempt to have
themselves identified as Jews if the perceived an opportunity to immigrate
to Israel. To accept the Falas Mora as Jews and permit their immigration
to Israel would, in this view, "open the floodgates" to tens
of thousands of additional Ethiopians who would "discover"
their Judaic ancestors and religious
The "floodgates" argument is advanced as one reason not to accept the Falas Mora as Jews and permit their immigration to Israel.
This potential problem would appear to be resolvable by conducting an accurate and authoritative census.
Substantial information already exists about the size and location of the Falas Mora population. A 1992 census of the Falas Mora population in Ethiopia counted more than 24,000 people in 6,000 families. Although several thousand of these people have since immigrated to Israel, the 1992 census could be a basis for recounting the Falas Mora and verifying their status. There are also earlier surveys and censuses which might be useful.
The Falas Mora connected with the compounds in Addis Ababa and Gonder are registered by community leaders. We observed the registration process in Addis Ababa. Although genealogical information is recorded, it seems that the deciding factor for registration is the personal testimony of leaders or elders of the community that the applicant was recognized in his village or community as a Jew. It was said to us frequently that everyone knows the origin of everyone else in villages in Ethiopia. In the ongoing process of registration, we were told that 650 persons had attempted to register as Falas Mora in Addis Ababa but had been turned down because their claims were fraudulent or insufficient. About 8,000 people have been accepted for registration as members of the community.
There should be a substantial overlap between the 1992 census and the current registrations in Addis Ababa and Gonder. For example, one person selected randomly who seems to appear in both census is Demeke Getu Wassie, a male with a family of 5 who was living in Buchara in 1992. In 1998, Demekie Getue Wassie, apparently the same person, was registered in Addis Ababa. He is a male aged 50, with a family of 7. He has a brother, Workie Getue Wassie in Israel.
The amount of data which already exists - as shown by the above example - would facilitate a census of the Falas Mora. Village elders in Ethiopia and from Israel, with technical assistance and supervision by neutral parties could best perform the census. A new census, quickly and accurately compiled, would help resolve questions concerning the numbers of the Falas Mora, the locations of remaining populations, and their family affiliations in Israel. The completion of an authoritative census would eliminate impostors claiming to be Jewish and facilitate consideration of individuals for immigration to Israel.
However, the Quarans, whose status as Jews is not in dispute, should be permitted to immigrate to Israel immediately under the Law of Return.
Are the Falas Mora persecuted ? Why?
As with most topics related to the Judaic population of Ethiopia there
are strong views expressed on both sides of the issue of persecution.
We talked to Falas Mora who said they had fled their homes in fear of
their lives, that their lands had been taken, their cattle stolen, and
their houses burned. Others said simply that their families in Israel
had advised them go to Addis Ababa or Gonder as the first step in securing
permission to immigrate to Israel. Without exception, the Falas Mora
to whom we talked wished
Both "push" and "pull" factors caused thousands of the Falas Mora to depart their villages and journey to the cities of Addis Ababa and Gonder.
The "pull" factor was the perception, reinforced by recent history and relatives in Israel, by the Falas Mora that the best way to secure immigration to Israel was to go to Addis Ababa or Gonder rather than waiting in their villages. JDC and NACOEJ have tried to dissuade Falas Mora from coming to Addis Ababa or Gonder, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.
The push factor is more difficult to evaluate. The incontrovertible facts seem to be the following
We visited Buchara to investigate more serious claims of persecution.
Buchara has seen several groups of visitors this year looking into claims
of persecution of its Falas Mora population. The first group of visitors
to Buchara, in approximately April 1998, arrived while about 10 burned
huts were still smoking. They were told that "Jewish" people
had lived in the huts, but that nobody knew who burned them. The owners
of the huts had left. The Falas Mora who were still in the village said
they were planning to leave shortly.
A second group of foreigners, including journalist Yosef Abramowitz visited Buchara in June 1998. Abramowitz wrote that when he arrived in Buchara people hid in their homes except for an armed man who confronted them. The gunman confirmed that the burned huts were Jewish and said the owners had left for Israel. He said that an ox had been stolen from the Jews (Abramowitz, Yosef I., Jewish World Review, September 2, 1998).
Our own visit to Buchara occurred Sunday, October 25. The rubble of
the burned huts was still visible. The village leaders were absent at
a funeral, but a group of herders and children greeted us in a friendly
manner. We fanned out to talk to as many people as possible; the stories
we heard were consistentno persecution of Jews had taken place in Buchara.
The Jews had sold their lands, cattle, and houses and departed Buchara
to go to Israel. The houses had been burned "to reclaim grazing
land." We asked if the
It seemed likely to us that the village leaders had previously called together the people and told them what to say to groups of foreigners visiting the village. Persons outside the village to whom we talked ridiculed the notion that the houses may have been burned to reclaim grazing land. "Houses are more valuable than grazing land." It seemed most likely to us that the Buchara incidents were directed at driving out the Falas Mora and taking their land, and property.
A man guided us to the huts of the last four Falas Mora in Bucharaan ancient woman, two younger women, and a child. The old woman said she could not leave Buchara because she was sick; the two younger women claimed to have been mistresses of Falas Mora men who had abandoned them. They had no money and thus were unable to leave the village.
One of the women first said that she "was frequently beaten," but later maintained (while others were listening ) that she was well treated in the village, but she was very lonely for her own people. Her child, she said, would not be able to marry, because she would not permit the child to marry a Christian; likewise, the Christians would not marry a Falas Mora. She was alone and hopeless.
On the same day, we visited Chowit, one of the few remaining villages in which a Falas Mora community still exists. A wealthy Falas Mora man in the community has offered his barns as a refuge for Falas Mora who have left their homes. About 100 persons, mainly women and children, were in residence, occupying stables and wattled structures. The wealthy man described the persecutions which had forced the people living in his barns to flee their villages and the discrimination against the Falas Mora which had deprived them of their land and livelihoods.
We also visited in Chowit the ruins of a burned shop previously owned
by a Falas Mora blacksmith. I interviewed privately a Christian woman
who claimed to be one-fourth "Beta Israel" - but considered
herself a Christian. The blacksmith shop had been burned, she said,
because the owner was a Beta Israel. Everybody in the village knew who
the Beta Israel were from birth. The Christians avoided contact with
them. The Beta Israel sometimes went to Church, but they were still
considered "Falasha." Many
In examining the evidence, it appears that the majority of the Falas Mora left their villages primarily because of a desire to go to Israel and a perception that moving to Addis Ababa or Gonder would increase their opportunities for immigration.
However, persecution also played an important role in the decision of many to flee villages where there ancestors had lived for hundreds of years. Some of the persecution was the low-level, but constant, dislike and discrimination directed against the Falas Mora in their communities. A second form of discrimination was directed against the Falas Mora because, as a weak community, some of their neighbors perceived an opportunity to seize their lands, cattle, houses, and property with impunity. This second form additionally appears to be directed on occasion against other minority groups in Ethiopia.
There are also a few cases documented, such as Buchara, in which the Falas Mora were pushed out of their villages and forced to flee because of well-founded fears that they might be harmed if they remained in the village - or, at the very least, that it would be impossible for them to earn a living.
The Humanitarian Situation of the Falas Mora
Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world. In 1997, Ethiopia ranked 170th out of 175 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index and has the third highest rate of malnutrition in the world. Grinding poverty and near starvation is the lot of one-fourth of the country's 55 million people.
The Falas Mora are among Ethiopia's poorest people. In Addis Ababa
and Gonder, we visited the homes of Falas Mora families. Most families
live in rented hovels often with seven or eight persons in a single
room about eight feet by eight feet in size, dirt floored, lacking plumbing
and with only a single bulb for light at night (if and when the landlords
turn on the electricity). Holes in the walls and roofs are covered with
scraps of plastic. An outdoor privy comprises the sanitary facilities
and a barrel of untreated water is the
We witnessed a great deal of illness among children. Worms and serious skin diseases are endemic. Tuberculosis, malaria, and, increasingly, HIV are threats to the general population. One young Falas Mora woman died of tuberculosis during our visit and several people died of other ailments. We saw a few cases of severe malnutrition and many Falas Mora children seemed stunted and poorly nourished.
An especially grave problem is the lack of access to medical care in Addis Ababa and Gonder. A few public health clinics exist in these two cities, but these clinics will only serve people with locally-issued identification papers. The Falas Mora have papers from their own villages and thus are turned away from even the rudimentary and inadequate public health facilities available to other urban slum dwellers. Private clinics are available for medical treatment, but few of the Falas Mora have money to pay the cost.
NACOEJ's school nurse treats only scabies and worms for the Falas Mora
in Addis Ababa. In Gonder, no health treatment is available for the
Falas Mora. The Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) provides health care
in both Addis Ababa and Gonder only to persons between the time of their
approval to immigrate to Israel and their actual departure. This can
be up to two days in Gonder and a maximum of two weeks in Addis Ababa.
However, since June 1998, persons eligible for medical treatment from
At its compound in Addis Ababa, NACOEJ provides a daily lunch of an orange, a hard-boiled egg, and a roll to about 2,000 children. During our visit, NACOEJ made its first food distribution to the Falas Mora and Quara Jews in Gonder. Several kilos of tef (the Ethiopian staple grain) were distributed to each family.
Most of the Falas Mora are unemployed or are able to secure only occasional day labor. The standard wage is about $1 U.S. per day, but many migrants from the countryside work for less, about 5 birr or $0.70 U.S. per day. A backlash against country people, including the Falas Mora, coming to Addis Ababa and undercutting the wages of city dwellers is possible. NACOEJ provides employment to some people in Addis Ababa through an embroidery program.
A serious problem cited by many people in Addis Ababa is the lack of a cemetery for the Falas Mora. The one Jewish cemetery in the city is controlled by four wealthy Adenite Jews who have been reluctant to grant permission for Falas Mora burials. During our stay, however, the Chairman of the Chief Rabbi's Committee on Ethiopian Jewry wrote the Adenites and requested them to continue to permit the Falas Mora to be buried in their cemetery - an apparent recognition of their Jewishness.
The compounds in Addis Ababa and Gonder provide facilities for daily prayers, worship, adult education, schools, study, and community activities for the Falas Mora population. Members of both communities seem very involved in their Jewish education and worship.
The Quara Jews and many of the Falas Mora appear to be eligible for immigration to Israel under the Law of Return. It seems a cruel fate indeed for Quara Jews to wait years for aliyah and for the Falas Mora to be denied the opportunity to apply for immigration to Israel - as now seems to be the case. The Israeli government should move quickly to consider and resolve the claims of Judaic Ethiopians that they have a right to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.
A desire to go to Israel and persecution have caused the migration of the Falas Mora from countryside to the cities. The Falas Mora are now a group of urban slum dwellers with very poor economic prospects. They cannot return to their former homes. Their lands, cattle, and houses have been purchased or confiscated by their neighbors. Their formerly lowly positions as artisans in the villages have been taken over by Christians.
The Falas Mora are in Addis Ababa and Gonder to stay, until someday
they accomplish their long-awaited aliyah. They have little choice in
the matter unless unforeseen and unlikely economic opportunities are
opened up for them. The help received from relatives in Israel and Jewish
humanitarian organizations is just enough to keep them barely viable
in the economy of the cities. Should that aid be denied them, their
prospects would be very bleak indeed.
The author, Larry Thompson, is Director of Advocacy for Refugees International. Prior to joining Refugees International in 1992, Mr. Thompson was a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State. His international experience totals 33 years. He has lived and worked in six countries and visited many others on behalf of the U.S. government or Refugees International.Top of page
Summary of Findings
In the past, contradictory statistics regarding the number of Jews remaining in Ethiopia, especially with respect to the AFalash Mura@ community, have been publicized throughout Israel and the world. Different >conjectures= have been published about the size of the Jewish population, its geographical distribution, and its demographic composition.
Yet in the absence of an official population-surveying mechanism, like those that exist in Western nations, it has been impossible to generate a comprehensive and reliable picture of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry.
This population, still living in Ethiopia, is directly descended from the Ethiopian Jewish community (ABeta Israel@). Over the years, this community grew increasingly distant from the Jewish religion, similar to the estrangement from religion that happened in many communities in the diaspora. Community members, however, have remained distinct from the rest of the Ethiopian population.
Those remaining in Ethiopia wish to rejoin the Jewish nation, and most are already leading a religious Jewish lifestyle. Since 1990, approximately 10,000 Ethiopian Jews have immigrated to Israel. They have undergone a process of returning to Judaism, and have established roots in Israeli society.
In the Refugees International report, The Last Jews of Ethiopia (Larry Thompson, October-November 1998), the need for a census was highlighted:
AAn authoritative census should be conducted immediately to determine the numbers and locations of Falas Mura. Several surveys and censuses, dating back to the 1970s, already exist. A new census could update, amplify and authenticate existing data and would help resolve issues such as the numbers of Falas Mura, eliminate imposters (i.e., persons claiming to be Jews so that they have the opportunity to immigrate to Israel), and, by collecting family data, facilitate consideration of applications for aliya to Israel.@
In response, a public committee was formed to implement the recommendations by carrying out a census.
The census, which was carried out between February and August 1999, was designed to generate a comprehensive population survey of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry, in order to provide the Israeli public and decision-makers with reliable information about this community.
Step by step, a census was designed to accumulate up-to-date information that would assist the Ministry of the Interior in evaluating immigration applications. This has been done to address the needs of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry who have been waiting for years, suffering harsh and often dangerous living conditions. The detailed mapping should help enable swift and thorough investigations into immigration requests, and prevent non-Jews from trying to win immigration permits through false claims.
The census accumulated detailed information about the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry in various areas of the country, including each family=s ancestry and relatives living in Israel. Jewish ancestry was rigorously investigated in several stages, going back four generations, to verify the status of those being surveyed. The census focused on the central cities, Addis-Ababa and Gondar, where the majority of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry live, as well as 150 villages.
The census required complex coordination in both Israel and Ethiopia. The project began with individual interviews and research carried out by experts from the community. Experts from elders of the Ethiopian community in Israel verified Jewish ancestry of people interviewed. Afterwards, statistics were calculated and genealogical maps (with English transcriptions) were created for each family, using a special computer program. The entire process involved many technical difficulties, and was accomplished by a staff of 55 investigators working in 28 teams in Ethiopia, 8 researchers in Ethiopia and Israel, and computer experts and statisticians in Israel.
A public committee supervised the survey, composed of specialists in census-taking, immigrant absorption, law, and religion, as well as experts in Ethiopian Jewry. The committee oversaw all aspects of the census, from its initial conception and planning through the preparation of reports. The committee also included community leaders, among them rabbis and directors of organizations from the Ethiopian immigrant community.
The following report describes committee members and detailed census findings. In addition, a ACommunity Registry,@ including the detailed information about the community, will soon be submitted to the Interior Ministry and the Absorption Ministry.
The census revealed that the majority of the Jewish population in Ethiopia lives in cities: 8,309 live in Addis-Ababa and 9,080 in Gondar. An additional 10,207 people live in villages in the districts of Chilgah, Dembia, Alfa, Takosa and Achpar. In total, 64.5 percent of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry live in the two large cities.
Until recently (a few months up to two years), the majority of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry lived in rural villages, and migrated to the cities with the expectation of continuing on to Israel. As a result, these people live in temporary dwellings, in the peripheral neighborhoods of Gondar, and the areas surrounding the Israeli Embassy in Addis-Ababa. Village inhabitants continue to migrate, as the census-takers saw thousands of people travel from villages to the cities, intending to immigrate, over the course of the year.
The investigation showed that urban areas where the population lives are typified by severe economic hardship: many residents of these areas are unemployed, suffer from food shortages, hunger, disease, causing a high mortality rate. They receive minimal humanitarian aid from various Jewish organizations.
People waiting to immigrate in these urban areas are organized into communities, hold community activities at synagogues and Jewish schools and aspire to immigrate to Israel. The census found that all (with few exceptions) have relatives in Israel, and that 66% percent of people waiting to immigrate in Addis-Ababa have first-degree relatives living in Israel: parents, children, siblings and grandparents. A similar situation exists among those waiting in Gondar.
People waiting to immigrate frequently express their desire to immigrate to Israel and to re-unite with their families. Complementing these figures, statistics show that more than 10,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel have first-degree relatives remaining in Ethiopia.
This is the most comprehensive and accurate census that has been undertaken among this population. Its findings reinforce and verify previous surveys and reports, dating back to 1991. The census paints a reliable and comprehensive picture of the community of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry, based on rigorous and independent investigations, replacing various ungrounded conjectures that have been publicized in the past.
During 1999, a precise census was taken of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry. 55 census-takers in 28 teams worked in the field. Using detailed questionnaires prepared in Israel, they collected population facts (name, sex, age, place of birth, marital status, spouse=s name, children of one parent, children of both parents), family histories and information about relatives in Israel. Pictures of people surveyed in Gondar and Addis-Ababa were attached to the questionnaires. The Jewish ancestry of those surveyed was scrutinized through four generations by elders of the Ethiopian Jewish community. Figures were also verified in Israel.
In the villages, population facts and family histories going back two generations were recorded in oral interviews. Twenty teams of investigators worked in the villages between June and August. Each team was composed of two people, one was familiar with the area and its inhabitants, and the other collected the survey information. Census-takers stayed in the villages for 24-56 days, depending on the area and local conditions.
During the investigation process, in the cities and the villages, there were only a few hundred people whose connections to the Jewish community were not proven.
The waves of immigration to IsraelCOperation Solomon (1990-1991), people waiting in Addis-Ababa (1993-1998) and the Jews of Quara (1999)Chave caused major changes in the lives of the Jews who remained. By 1998, most had left their villages, and gathered, waiting to immigrate, in two main locations:
Migration from the villages began in 1990, as the majority of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry left their villages in the districts of Dembia and Chilgah. Many have already immigrated to Israel, while the rest wait for permission to immigrate, primarily in Addis-Ababa. Significant migration to the cities from the other districts is currently underway.
In Addis-Ababa and Gondar, specific areas have been designated to serve as community centers. Committees chosen by the community have organized the many people waiting to immigrate, and Jewish religious activities are held in synagogues and Jewish schools. They maintain a religious Jewish lifestyle, praying daily, wearing kippot and keeping Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Entrance to community compounds is permitted only to those whose Jewish ancestry has been investigated by community elders living in Israel.
Living conditions, however, are extremely difficult: economic hardships, unemployment, hunger and disease result in high mortality rates. Since June 1998, 107 people have died in Addis-Ababa. The situation in Gondar is even worse, as 474 people have died since June 1998, primarily infants and children:
The North American Organization for Ethiopian Jews (NACOEJ) assists community organizations and schools, and helps some heads of households find work. The Joint provides minimal medical assistance to part of the population. Family members in Israel often send money to help their relatives in Ethiopia.
The rest have remained in villages, in the districts around Lake Tana: Dembia, Chilgah, Alfa, Takosa and Achpar. The population in the villages is dwindling as some people migrate to larger villages and many wait to move to Gondar or Addis-Ababa.
The census surveyed areas and villages well-known as centers of Jewish residence in Ethiopia, and places from which Ethiopian Jews and the AFalash Mura@ immigrated to Israel. In Addis-Ababa and Gondar, where people have gathered waiting to emigrate, people from other districts, such as Quara, Wagra, Samayin, Armotzhu, etc. have also been counted. It is possible that some families and individuals remain scattered in other locations, but their numbers are small, no more than a few hundred people.
How Many Remain in Ethiopia?
The survey throughout Ethiopia yielded the following results:
In total, 26,196 individuals in Ethiopia comprise the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry.
Please note: These should be regarded as maximum figures; because of the migration from the villages to the cities during the census, it is possible that there is some duplication in the total figures.
Relatives in Israel
The census has shown that the overwhelming majority of families have relatives living in Israel, and thousands of families have first-degree relatives in Israel. For example, people waiting to emigrate in Addis-Ababa have relatives in Israel as follows:
Many of these families have several first-degree relatives, on maternal and paternal sides, brothers, etc. The figures given in the table were based on family units, and thus families have more relatives in Israel than were taken in account in the statistics. These figures have revealed that 66.6% of those waiting to immigrate in Addis-Ababa have first-degree relatives in Israel, and a similar situation exists in Gondar. To complement these figures, it can be assumed that more than 10,000 Ethiopian immigrants living in Israel have close relatives living under harsh conditions in Ethiopia.
Will Immigration to Israel Cause Further Emigration From Ethiopia?
The Law of Return grants the right of immigration to grandchildren of Jews and their spouses. Yet it is not bestowing the same rights on a Jew=s siblings, parents or grandparents.
Will the immigration of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry be followed by the immigration of their non-Jewish descendants?
Census statistics answer that question:
Past experience has clearly shown that immigration from Ethiopia and the resulting family re-unifications have not caused a sudden increase in the number of people joining Beta Israel community circles in Ethiopia, which are well-known and documented in the census. All of those who have immigrated to Israel in recent years belong to the community framework that is reflected in the census. From this perspective, these census findings signal a departure from earlier surveys and field reports taken since 1991.
Summary and Conclusions
Between February and August 1999, a detailed and precise survey was taken of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry, including centers where people are waiting to immigrate in Addis-Ababa and Gondar and 150 villages. Questionnaires were used to gather detailed information about the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry. This census has provided a demographic picture of the entire community.
The census reveals that 26,196 people belonging to Beta Israel remain in Ethiopia, and that a large number of them (64.5%) have migrated to the cities in recent years, a process that continued during the census period. Many have moved from their native villages in the districts of Dembia, Chilgah, Takosa, Alfa, Achpar, Quara and others to Gondar and Addis-Ababa. They have not integrated into the cities, and are still found suspended in temporary conditions: they live in temporary dwellings in neighborhoods surrounding the immigration office in Gondar and the Israeli Embassy in Addis-Ababa, and wait for permission to immigrate. They have no steady income sources, and many have no sources of income at all. A majority of the community is in severe financial straits, suffering from hunger and exposed to disease, resulting in many deaths.
Those waiting the immigrate, in Addis-Ababa and Gondar, are organized into communities and run an active Jewish lifestyle, centering around synagogues and Jewish schools. The census shows all (with very few exceptions) have relatives living in Israel and that 66.6% of those waiting to immigrate in Addis-Ababa have first degree relatives in Israel: parents, children, siblings and grandparents. A similar situation exists in Gondar. All of these people expect to immigrate to Israel and reunite with their families. A significant number of Ethiopian immigrant families living in Israel left behind close family members struggling in Ethiopia.
In view of these figures, especially with respect to the harsh conditions of life in Ethiopia, immediate intervention is necessary on the part of the Israeli government and World Jewry to address the fate of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry. This should be pursued in two main ways:
1. Humanitarian Aid. Immediately sending shipments of food and medical supplies to provide for the well-being of the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry.
2. Speeding the Immigration Process. Increasing Interior Ministry staff involved in the process granting immigration permits to the remnants of Ethiopian Jewry, in order to bring them to Israel as soon as possible.
The Census Oversight Committee
An independent public committee, composed of representatives of the Ethiopian community and experts in the field of Ethiopian Jewry, supervised all stages of the census, from its inception through the final calculations and reports. Four committee members visited Ethiopia and saw the survey-takers at work.
The committee consists of specialists in related fields, experts in population surveying, immigrant absorption and academic fields such as law, religion, education and Ethiopian Jewry. Members of the committee also represented the Ethiopian community, including a rabbi and community activists from organizations that serve the Ethiopian immigrant community in Israel.
Members of the Oversight Committee:
David Efrati Committee Chair.Director of the Population Administration
Department in the Ministry of the Interior (1989-1994). Ministry of
the Interior=s representative to the Inter-Ministry Committee to Investigate
the AFalash Mura@ (1991). Visited Ethiopia as part of the staff supervising
The members of the Oversight Committee would like to thank the many
people who have worked hard to realize this project.
Prior to the recent accusations, in an April 19, 1998 report written
by the Consul in the Israel Embassy in Addis Ababa (an employee of the
Interior Ministry) to his superiors at the Interior
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