Ethiopian Families Together Again
Around 300 Ethiopian immigrants landed on Thursday at Israel's international airport by way of Ethiopian Airlines. Many of them were dressed in traditional Ethiopian robes and some women were holding infants as some waved flags or stopped to kiss the ground upon arrival as they debarked from the aircraft onto a red carpet.
Festive Hebrew songs blasting over loudspeakers in the background complemented the ambience.
Israel’s first Ethiopian-born Cabinet Minister, Pnina Tamano-Shata, travelled to Ethiopia to join them on the flight and a large delegation of Israeli officials welcomed the group upon their arrival.
This was a move by the Israeli government to honour its pledge in 2015 to reunite hundreds of Ethiopian families of Jewish lineage split between the two countries. Community activists have since accused the government of dragging its feet in the implementation of this initiative a nd Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party interestingly repeated the pledge before national elections earlier this year.
The Prime Minister himself had some words on the event, "My wife Sara and myself were standing there with tears in our eyes. When you see the olim (immigrants to Israel), our brothers Ethiopian Jews, disembark from the plane with baskets, like we remember, as I remember in my childhood, (they) disembark and touch the ground of Eretz Israel and the mother bows down and kisses the ground, carrying a baby girl named Yerushalayim, and another baby girl named Esther. Esther and Yerushalayim come to Jerusalem. This is the essence of the Jewish story, the essence of the Zionist story."
Not Jewish Enough
The Ethiopian families — although practising Jews, Israel does not recognise them as Jewish under religious law. As such, they were permitted to enter the country under a family-unification program that requires special government approval.
The Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah, an activist group that seeks to promote family unification, estimates some 7,000 Ethiopian Jews still remain in Ethiopia — many of whom have been waiting for years to be reunited with their families.