Ethiopian Jews threaten hunger strike over slow Israeli plan to repatriate them

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Several hundred Ethiopian Jews, also known as Beta Israel, who gathered Wednesday in Addis Ababa have vowed to carry out a mass hunger strike unless the Israeli government implements a 2015 pledge to repatriate them all back to the “Holy Land.” The threats came as the Israeli government is set to eliminate the budget for helping them settle in Israel.

“All of us here in Ethiopia are in a foreign land and suffering from acute poverty and hunger,” said community head of Ethiopian Jews in the Addis Ababa, Meles Sidisto. “Most of our family members are in Israel. Several of our brothers and sisters who took dangerous routes to meet their relatives in Israel have died during their journey.”

Sidisto said the Ethiopian Jews community in Addis Ababa, numbered around 800 households, will hold a hunger strike after two months if the Israeli government doesn’t hear their plea and repatriate them to Israel. “We have had enough here. What have we done wrong to suffer this much?” he said, bursting into tears and prompting other Synagogue goers to cry en mass.

Several of the Ethiopian Jews who came to the Synaguge in the outskirts of Addis Ababa carried photos of their loved ones who live in Israel. Some said they’ve been waiting to go to Israel for close to thirty years.

According to an advocacy group that aims to repatriate Ethiopian Jews to Israel; 8,000 Jews remain in Ethiopia waiting to immigrate and reunite with their families in Israel for over 20 years.

“Over 70 percent of them have first degree relatives in Israel. Parents have been separated from their children in over 2 decades in some cases,” said Alisa Bodner, spokesperson for The Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah. “In 2015, the Israeli government made a unanimous decision to bring the remaining Jews of Ethiopia to Israel and bring an end to this suffering. This decision has not been executed.”

Most Ethiopian Jews live in northern Ethiopia’s Amhara region, one of the areas which experienced massive anti-governemt protests since November 2015. A sizeable Jew community is also present in the capital Addis Ababa.

Chekol Alemayehu, who has been desperately waiting to go to Israel and meet his relatives, said he finished all the immigration papers but was returned from an airport when he was about to fly to Israel 16 years ago. “I’ve no idea why. My daughter died in Israel a few months ago. And I’ve been suffering since,” he said showing photos of his love ones for The Associated Press.

In a letter addressed to Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Jews in Addis Ababa said they want to immediately and without any preconditions go to Israel and join their family members.

“We will never lose hope in going to Israel because we are winner people,” the readout letter says. “Dear Mr. Prime Minister, we want you to make our wish a reality. We ask you this in the name of Our God, Israel’s God.”

In May 1991, the Israeli Defense Forces carried out Operation Solomon with which they successfully airlifted some 14,500 Ethiopian Jews out of Ethiopia. The covert operation was carried out with 34 planes within 36 hours.

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