"In light of the Ethiopian government's attack on the Tigray district, there is a real and immediate danger to the lives of the remains of Ethiopian Jewry waiting in Addis Ababa and Gondar," read an urgent letter sent to the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Finance last week. The letter is signed by the heads of several organizations working to enable Ethiopian Jews waiting in camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa to make aliyah [immigrate to Israel]. 

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War broke out in Ethiopia while thousands of members of the Ethiopian Jewish community were waiting to be allowed to enter Israel. Most had been waiting in the camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa for years. In October 2019, the Israeli government resolved to finally execute a decision made in 2015, that all Ethiopian Jews waiting to make aliyah would be allowed to do so by the end of 2020.

119 olim (immigrants) from Ethiopia arrive in Israel. May 21 2020. (Photo: Flash90)

“The situation is very serious. There is a bloody war in northern Ethiopia, and Gondar has a border with the rebel province,” says Gabi Warko, a Likud activist and political commentator, on ETV, an Amharic-language Israeli television channel.  “Last week two missiles fell near the camp, and it could be hit.” 

“There is no protection, no bomb shelter, like we have,” he added, referring to the bomb shelters found in every home and building in Israel. 

Ethiopian Jews have long had to overcome struggles to make aliyah. The Israeli government flew tens of thousands of Jews from Ethiopia to Israel in the 1980s and 90s in the midst of a civil war in Ethiopia. But many more thousands of Ethiopian Jews have had to make a dangerous, traumatizing journey by foot through neighboring Sudan to reach Israel. More recently, the families of Ethiopian Jews remaining in Ethiopia have mounted political campaigns aimed at reuniting their families.

Warko says the prime minister has not yet responded to the letter. 

He urges the country to act quickly. "This is not a game, we are in a time of war. The families here are deeply anxious. It is not always easy to reach them by telephone or through the Internet. The state must step up and bring everyone home. This is not about money, it’s about human lives.”

Gabi Warko, chairman of the She'ar Yashuv organization for the immigration and absorption of Ethiopian Jews and a political commentator on ETV (Photo: Private album)

 

Warko clarifies that although war broke out in Ethiopia only recently, Israel has known about the population waiting in the camps for years. He insists that rapid action is possible. 

“In 2015, the state designated 9,400 who are eligible for aliyah; so far about 2,000 people have immigrated,” he says. “The state knows and has the lists, and people are rotting there. They left the villages because the Christians are massacred them there.”

“It cannot be that Israel takes Jews from all over the world, out of every little place, but does not let in those who have been knocking on the immigration gates for 20 years. If they had the right skin color, before they even had to ask, they would have been allowed to make aliyah,” Warko adds.  “More than 80 percent of those waiting there have first-degree relatives in Israel—father, sister, mother."

In the conclusion of their letter, the organizations referenced the holiday of Sigd, which was last week. Sigd is an Ethiopian Jewish holiday that has been celebrated as a state holiday in Israel since 2008. It complements Yom Kippur and calls for the repentance of the community. 

Tikvat Zion community in Addis Ababa, were Ethiopian Jews await immigration permits

“In the spirit of the Sigd holiday, we must do some soul-searching," the letter concludes. “We call on you to act urgently to implement the government resolutions. Thousands of Israeli citizens with families in Ethiopia are looking to you in the hope of saving the lives of their loved ones."

The Prime Minister's Office did not respond to a request for comment at this time.