For centuries, the Ethiopian Jews dreamed of their return to their biblical home as Israelis from an Ethiopian background tell today. The most extensive operation to bring back Ethiopian Jews to Israel recently marked its 24th anniversary. On May 24 1991, the IDF carried out Operation Solomon, a massive airlift with 34 planes that brought over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel within 36 hours. The mission remains the largest aerial operation in Israel’s history.
The integration of the Ethiopian Jewish community into mainstream Israeli society turned out to be more difficult than expected. The Ethiopian community still struggles in several areas. They are over-represented in numbers living under the poverty line, Ethiopian Jewish pupils are least likely to graduate their final high-school (bagrut) exams and they are under represented among university students. According to community members, they claim to face police brutality quite often.
The Israeli government or society aren’t to blame for everything as many different factors affect their situation. Nevertheless, the Ethiopian community took their fate silently. They did so until they raised their voices at the beginning of May in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where they gathered together to protest against their perceived discrimination, racism and police brutality.
Why only now one may ask?
The immediate trigger was a video clip showing how Damas Pakada, of Ethiopian extraction, was beaten by a police officer and a police volunteer. In the video, Pakada stood in his IDF uniform in the street, at the scene of the police dealing with a suspect package, waiting, before the officer attacked him. The officer stated in a recent interview that, "I don’t regret what I did and my behavior had no racist motivation at all." He explained, that while dealing with the suspicious object Pakada had refused to follow his instruction to move further away from the area. Whether racism was behind the beating or not is now up to the legal system. Pakada has lately filed charges against the police officer and his assistant.
Pakada explained after the attack during a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he loves Israel and that, "I want to serve the country to give something back." In the aftermath of the biggest protest on May 3rd, President Reuven Rivlin admitted that Israel had committed mistakes. "We did not see nor listen enough: among those protesting in the streets are some of our most excellent sons and daughters, gifted students and those serving in the army". He continued, "the protests expose an open and bleeding wound in the heart of Israeli society." He announced that further measures will be implemented and Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed a ministerial committee to address the challenges faced by Israelis of Ethiopian origin, including difficulties in the field of education, housing and employment. Maybe the protests were a catalyst to help improving the situation of the Jewish-Ethiopian community in Israel.
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Picture: Flash90 Archive