Jewish Agency prepared for last Ethiopian aliyah in August; brief history of Ethiopian aliyah to Israel
Approximately 400 of the last remaining Jews of Ethiopia will make aliyah at the end of August 2013. The Jewish Agency announced the final aliyah in summer of 2013, and will closing its compounds in Ethiopia. Aliyah of Jewish Ethiopians has been on and off since 2009, with approximately 200 immigrated each month. The Jewish Agency has reported over 6,500 Ethiopian immigrants to Israel since 2010.
The history of Jewish aliyah is a long and difficult one; the idea of Jewish Ethiopians was brought to the Jewish Agency and Ministry of Absorption in 1973. They were referred to as Beta Israel, “House of Israel”, believed by many to be a descendant tribe of Israel. Most historians connect Beta Israel to the tribe of Dan. For years, politicians, Jewish agency workers, researchers and religious leaders debated the legitimacy of their Jewish status. After thousands of years in the diaspora, a large group of Beta Israel converted to Christianity due to persecution in Ethiopia. They are referred to as Falasha.
In 1972, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who was the chief Sephardi rabbi at the time, called on Israel to allow Beta Israel to immigrate to Israel. There was much controversy as Shlomo Green, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, disagreed claiming that Beta Israel had no connection to the tribe of Dan. However, in 1977, under Prime Minister Menachem Began, the Jewish Agency, along with the Mossad began to form operations to begin to bring Beta Israel home to Israel.
Diplomatic relations between Israel and Ethiopia we weak, following pressure on Ethiopia from Arab states following the Yom Kippur War. Judaism was officially outlawed in 1980, and the situation for Jews in Ethiopia worsened. In 1984, the Mossad, along with the Jewish Agency and United States began to plan missions to bring Ethiopian Jewry to their homeland.
In 1984, the Mossad began to work with Sudanese officials to temporarily hold Ethiopian refugees. Thousands of Ethiopians traveled by foot to Sudan, refugees from the ongoing and growing anti-Semitism in Ethiopia. Over 4,000 died on this journey, killed by bandits or dying from malnutrition, starvation and illness. In a covert mission called “Operation Moses” over 8,000 Ethiopians were taken to Israel in large groups. The Mossad worked secretly with Sudan to evacuate the thousands of Jews.
On Friday, January 5, 1985 Arab forces notified Ethiopia of the mission. The mission was cut short, and over 1,000 refugees were left behind. The USA, under President George Bush, who was involved heavily in Operation Moses, along with the CIA, created a second mission, known as “Operation Joshua” to bring the remaining refugees home. Approximately 500 of the refugees were brought to Israel.
Thousands of Jews were still left in Ethiopia, many suffering from persecution, outcast and religious discrimination under the rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam. In the last major operation led by Israel, “Operation Solomon”, over 14, 325 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted from Ethiopia and flown to Israel. The mission was carried out in 36 hours, involving 24 aircrafts.
Since these major operations, Israel, alongside the Jewish Agency and many supporting organizations both Jewish and Zionist worldwide have been bringing Jewish Ethiopians to their homeland. The process has been long and difficult, bureaucratic and harsh diplomatic relations with the Ethiopian government causing delays and setbacks.
Thousands of Ethiopian Jews have made aliyah since Israel’s operations. The Jewish Agency continues to support new immigrants to Israel, with programs and government-funded organizations and absorption programs. Israel’s commitment to bringing the Jews of Ethiopia to their homeland has been a long and difficult process, but a success.