Falash Mura hope long hunger strike will draw attention to their poor living conditions, pave way for aliyah to Israel. ‘We’re ready to die until we get an answer,’ preacher says.
In a run-down synagogue built from corrugated iron sheets in the north east of the Ethiopian capital, preacher Wagaw Moges addresses a crowd of dozens gathered for weekday prayers. The participants are all members of a 2,000-strong community in Addis Ababa who claim Jewish lineage, but their very origins are doubted by authorities in Israel who believe they are imposters seeking entry under the guise of religion.
“Be strong my colleagues, there will be a lot of discomfort,” Wagaw tells his audience, some of whom wore skullcaps while others brandished photographs of family members they say live in Israel.
“We’re ready to die until we get an answer,” he says, hoping that a “long hunger strike” would draw attention to their poor living conditions and pave the way for “aliyah”, the right to return to the promised land.
Over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews already live in Israel and Jerusalem recently granted entry to 7,800 Falash Mura more from only the northern town of Gonder, where many Ethiopian Jews originate from.
The Falash Mura see themselves as Jews, and say they were forced to convert to Christianity in Ethiopia and Israel has not accepted that all of them are Jewish.Those in the Ethiopian capital say they were unfairly left out, dashing their hopes of reuniting with family members.
“All we want is to reunite with our families. Both my father and mother are in Israel along with my two sisters,” said Fikirte Delele, a 33-year-old mother of two.
The group says its members moved from Gonder in the mid-1990s hoping to fast-track their aliyah after Israel resettled thousands of Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s.
But the dream of quick resettlement soon turned faded, and the new arrivals – mostly poor farmers and manual laborers – soon found themselves struggling to survive in Addis Ababa having sold all their meager belongings in rural Ethiopia.
Israeli officials, long skeptical about whether all Falash Mura are actually Jewish, have confirmed that those Falash Mura in Addis Ababa will not be part of the 7,800.
“Last month, the government of Israel decided to bring the last group of Falash Mura waiting in Gonder,” Alon Unfus-Asif, spokesman at the Israeli embassy in Addis Ababa, told Reuters. “This decision aims to be the last chapter of organized immigration from Ethiopia to Israel,” Alon said. Israel grants automatic citizenship to Jews who immigrate. Most Falash Mura must undergo a conversion ritual before receiving citizenship papers.
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