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End of an Era: Ethiopian Aliyah to Stop Next Month

Israelis and Jews were excited on a Friday night 22 years ago when Israel announced its secret Operation Solomon brought 13,000 Ethiopians to Israel. The aliyah effort will end on August 28.
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Falash Mura olim arrive in Ben Gurion airport.

Falash Mura olim arrive in Ben Gurion airport.
Photo Credit: The Jewish Agency for Israel

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The Jewish Agency is preparing to end mass aliyah from Ethiopia with two final flights consisting of 400 immigrants on Aug. 28.

The Jewish Agency emissary to Ethiopia, Asher Seyum, made the announcement in a brief letter, saying the Jewish Agency will hand over its aid compounds in the Ethiopian city of Gondar to local authorities at the end of August.

For years the compounds – originally established by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry and only recently taken over by the Jewish Agency – provided thousands of Ethiopians waiting to immigrate to Israel with educational, nutritional and some employment services.

Once the final flights are complete, Ethiopians wishing to immigrate to Israel will be subject to the same rules as potential immigrants from elsewhere in the world and considered on a case-by-case basis, a New York-based spokesman for the Jewish Agency told JTA.

A steady trickle of approximately 200 Ethiopian immigrants per month has been coming to Israel since 2010, when the government decided to check the aliyah eligibility of an additional 8,000 or so Ethiopians.

The petitioners are known as Falash Mura, Ethiopians who claim links to descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity generations ago but who now seek to return to Judaism and immigrate to Israel. They have been accepted to Israel under different rules than those governing other immigrants.

The Israeli government has declared an official end to mass Ethiopian immigration several times. Each time, however, aliyah from Ethiopia resumed after pressure by advocates.

In August 2008, for example, the Israeli government declared mass Ethiopian immigration over only to reverse course several months later and agree to check the aliyah eligibility of 3,000 additional Ethiopians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in May 2009 that those would be the last Ethiopians to be checked en masse, but that decision was reversed in 2010, opening the door for this latest group of immigrants.

Under his implementation of the government’s 2010 decision, Seyum said, more than 6,500 Ethiopians have immigrated to Israel.

The first mass immigration wave of Ethiopian Jews took place in Operation Moses in late 1984 and early 1985, when Israel brought 6,500 Ethiopians Jews to the country.

After rebels in Ethiopia took over the capital city Addis Abba in 1991 and threatened the stability of the entire country, Israel and private groups carried out the secret Operation Solomon mission that brought more than 14,000 Ethiopians to Israel on 34 El Al flights.

The operation continued into the Sabbath, with the permission of the Chief Rabbinate based on the Jewish law that “pikuach nefesh,” saving a life, takes precedence over the laws of the Sabbath that had to be suspended for the maneuvers.

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