Ethiopian Jewry Still in Danger As Civil War Rages in Provinces

The 15,000 to 20,000 Jews still left in Ethiopia are in grave danger because of the ongoing civil war raging in the northern part of the country, activists for Ethiopian Jewry warned Tuesday.

“The Jewish community has never been in worse condition,” said Barbara Ribakove Gordon, executive director of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry.

“Thousands are trapped in Gondar, where civil war has been intense,” she said. Gondar, the province where most Jews live, has been cut off from outside relief workers because of the intensity of rebel activity there.

Concerned that the civil war and an impending famine may kill as many as 5 million people in the provinces of Eritrea, Tigre, Wello and Gondar, 86 members of the Congressional Caucus for Ethiopian Jewry have signed a letter to Secretary of State James Baker urging diplomatic action to prevent millions dying from starvation, and to help bring about an end to the civil war.

William Recant, executive director of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews, said that government troops and rebel forces “hopscotch through the Jewish villages and as a result, there is no firm authority structure in place.”

This has allowed non-Jews to rampage through the Jewish villages, Recant said. “There have been reports of 25 murders this past year, and reports of looting and crops being stolen.”

The plight of Ethiopian Jewry can only be solved when there is a cease-fire and a political settlement of the various conflicts in Ethiopia, said Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), a co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus and the author of the letter sent to Baker on Monday.

“Only then will conditions be established that will enable Ethiopia’s proud Jewish community to be reunited with their families in Israel,” Solarz said.

The letter, signed by 16 senators and 70 members of the House, said that “it is clear that this situation requires immediate attention at the highest diplomatic levels to keep millions of Ethiopians from dying.”

Even if the war ends, Recant said, this will be the last generation of Jews in Ethiopia. The Jewish community is no longer “a viable community” since it is made up now mostly of women, children and the elderly, he said.

Gordon noted the Jewish communities are also disappearing because “a tremendous number of Jews had to flee their villages from attacks.”

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