JERUSALEM (Aug. 30)
Once again, it appears that the emigration of Jews from Ethiopia to Israel has been stalled, though the exact extent and nature of the delay remains unclear.
Uri Gordon, chairman of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration and Absorption Department, told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv that no Jews have been allowed to leave for Israel from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa for the past three weeks.
But Will Recant, executive director of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews, took issue with the report from Israel, calling it “untrue.”
His organization “knows of 53 Jews that came to Israel this week,” he said.
He said, however, that it was true that no Ethiopian Jews have been permitted to initiate the immigration process since mid-June, when the emigration reportedly ground to a halt for a period of time.
Recant said that only 4,000 of the 15,000 Ethiopian Jews in Addis Ababa were in the bureaucratic pipeline when the applications were halted.
“The people we have seen come out since the middle of June were all in the process at the time that things stopped,” Recant said.
Earlier this summer, it was thought that the number of Ethiopian Jews allowed to leave for Israel would again reach 500 per month, which had been the average before the sharp drop in mid-June.
NUMBERS FAR LOWER
But the numbers have been far lower, with well under 200 allowed out in both July and August.
An unnamed Israeli tourist in Addis Ababa, quoted Thursday by Ma’ariv, reported that sickness and poor sanitation had in recent weeks killed some 120 Jews waiting for their aliyah, mostly among children and the elderly.
The tourist said that the mood among Ethiopian Jews was one of bitter despair, and that many were accusing Israel of abandoning them.
Recant of AAEJ confirmed that at least 97 had died over the past 60 days.
In New York, an official of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee said his organization is doing all it can to provide medical care to the Ethiopian Jewish population.
“We have about five doctors, and seven or eight nurses who are seeing 200 people a day in our clinic,” said Michael Schneider, executive vice president of JDC.
He said that an additional 70 Ethiopians were being trained to go to the homes of Ethiopian Jews to see if they need medical attention, and that a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases was expected to arrive shortly from Israel.
“My impression is that the death rate among those in Addis is probably higher than normal,” Schneider said. “Don’t forget that they made a very rigorous journey to an unfamiliar urban environment.”
The Jews have been waiting in Addis Ababa for permission to emigrate, after fleeing civil strife in their native Gondar region.
JDC has also been providing the population of approximately 15,000 with cash, household goods and food. And officials of the Jewish Agency and Israeli Embassy have been on location to minister to the Jews.
When asked if the expansion of the medical facilities in Addis Ababa meant that Israeli officials did not see any hope of getting Ethiopian Jews out soon, Schneider replied, “We can only deal with facts on the ground. Even if movement took place fast, this is a substantial population that needs a great deal of care.”
Meanwhile, the Eritrean rebels, who are at war with the Ethiopian government, have accused Israel of helping the government build a strategically important air base on an island in the straits of Bab el-Mandeb. The rebel radio said this base would enable Israel to maintain a military presence close to the straits.
The radio report also charged that Israeli advisers assisted the Ethiopian army in launching attacks on rebel targets, though Israel has repeatedly denied any military assistance to Ethiopia.
(JTA staff writer Allison Kaplan in New York contributed to this report.)