JERUSALEM (Jul. 22)
The flow of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, said to have been interrupted over the past few weeks, is expected to resume shortly, according to authoritative sources.
Meanwhile, the thousands of hopeful emigrants who have gathered in the capital city of Addis Ababa are being taken care of well, officials of the Foreign Ministry and the Jewish Agency for Israel said at a joint briefing for reporters here late last week.
They disputed unconfirmed reports from Addis Ababa that the Jews were living there in miserable conditions, subject to rampant disease and attacks from criminal elements.
Authoritative sources confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that there had been a cessation of emigration from Ethiopia for the past three weeks.
But they also confirmed an Ethiopian Foreign Ministry official’s statement to the mass-circulation Israeli daily Yediot Achronot that the emigration will soon be resumed.
The official was quoted as saying his government has no intention of reneging on its agreement with Jerusalem to facilitate the emigration of Jews to permit reunification with their families in Israel. That agreement was reached last November, when Israel and Ethiopia re-established diplomatic relations.
Israel has vehemently denied reports that the emigration was halted because it had refused to supply the beleaguered Ethiopian regime with military equipment, including cluster bombs. The regime is reported to be losing its decades-long battle with Eritrean separatists and guerrillas in Tigre province.
Over the past few months, the bulk of the country’s Jewish population has left native villages in the northern province of Gondar for the capital, hoping to emigrate.
RECEIVING MEDICAL AND FINANCIAL AID
Earlier this month, both Israeli and Ethiopian officials expressed concern that non-Jews were infiltrating this group and slipping out of the country undetected.
Nevertheless, Ethiopia wants the emigration to resume with a low profile, according to the official cited by Yediot Achronot.
The Jewish Agency and Foreign Ministry officials denied reports that the Jews whose departure has been delayed in Addis Ababa are living under rapidly deteriorating conditions or that the authorities intend to send them back to their villages.
Such reports were made public last week by Knesset member Geula Cohen of the Tehiya party, who is also deputy minister of science and energy.
The Israeli officials said their representatives in Addis Ababa were in close contact with the Jews there, whose number they put at close to 12,000.
According to the officials, those waiting in Addis Ababa have the services of local doctors and have all been inoculated in preparation for their departure for Israel.
They are also receiving regular financial help, which lets them live in relative comfort while waiting to leave.
“Israeli representatives are in constant contact with the authorities and are ceaselessly active to ensure that the process of family reunion of Ethiopian Jews with their relatives in Israel — which the Ethiopian government is facilitating on a humanitarian basis — goes forward,” said a statement issued at the news briefing.
Jewish relief organizations in the United States also sought to allay fears that the community was being neglected.
A spokesman for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee said his organization has been giving humanitarian assistance to displaced people, including Jews, in Addis Ababa over the last few months, and had provided nurses, mid-wives and other forms of medical assistance.
The spokesman said that the JDC was working in Addis Ababa at the request of the Ethiopian government.
“Every Jew in Addis is being cared for and sheltered and given medical treatment when they arrive there,” said William Recant, director of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews.
Recant pointed out, however, that “coming from a region that has been hit by drought and famine,” Ethiopian Jews are likely to suffer deaths “in a community as large and diverse” as the one in Addis Ababa.
Recant said that yellow fever, meningitis, malaria and typhoid were all present in Ethiopia and that mortality rates were generally very high in the region.
(JTA staff writer Allison Kaplan in New York contributed to this story.)