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Inquiry threatened if Falash Mura aliya not sped up

From the Jerusalem Post Newspaper:
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.”