Menu JTA Search

Brawl Erupts at Absorption Center Between Soviet and Ethiopian Olim

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

A fierce brawl between Ethiopian and Soviet immigrants broke out Monday night at a Jerusalem absorption center. Four Soviet olim were hospitalized with minor injuries.

Jewish Agency officials insisted racism played no part in the fracas. But Israeli authorities are questioning the wisdom of housing immigrants from widely disparate ethnic and social backgrounds under the same roof.

The incident, which left seething tensions in its wake, occurred at a former hotel ironically named the Diplomat. It has been serving as temporary quarters for about 200 recently arrived Soviet Jews and some 600 Ethiopians, part of the 14,000 brought to Israel in the Operation Solomon airlift of May 24-25.

Police who broke up the melee, which involved dozens of olim on both sides, said stones, iron bars and other improvised weapons, possibly even knives, were wielded by the combatants.

Israeli newspapers featured photographs Tuesday of bloodied olim in ambulances being taken to hospitals, where they were treated for flesh wounds.

Trouble seems to have been brewing for some time between the two groups at the absorption center. Soviet parents told reporters the confrontation was triggered by frequent fights between Soviet children and older Ethiopians.

Soviet Jews at the hotel complained that the Ethiopians were noisy and untidy, and that they had started the fights.

A young Ethiopian immigrant who said his name was Mengistu told Israel Radio on Tuesday that he had studied some Russian in Addis Ababa and understood the frequently insulting remarks by the Soviet olim about his people.

RESENTMENT OF UNEQUAL BENEFITS

According to some sources, the ill feelings stem from Soviet Jews’ resentment of the extra benefits given the Ethiopian immigrants, who come from a primitive society and have trouble adjusting to Israel’s Western lifestyle.

“They just refuse to accept that they are both members of the same people,” said Meir Buzaglo, one of the homeless Israelis who also live at the absorption center.

Unlike the Ethiopians, who are sheltered at absorption centers and showered with clothing and other gifts while they try to learn the language and acclimatize themselves, the Soviets generally undergo “direct absorption.”

Upon arrival, each family receives a stipend, from which it must pay rent and buy other necessities of life while learning Hebrew and searching for housing and jobs, both in short supply.

The Soviet olim at the Diplomat pay rent while the Ethiopians do not. Jewish Agency officials admitted Tuesday that it was a mistake to put the two groups together.

But Brachiyahu Mansouri, a senior immigration official, dismissed a suggestion that racism was responsible for the unrest. “It’s negligible, doesn’t exist,” he told reporters.

Absorption Ministry officials said there is no intention of trying to force the two communities to live together in the long term. The arrangement at the Jerusalem hotel is temporary. But now even temporary arrangements will be carefully reviewed, ministry officials said.

NEXT STORY