March 31, 2007
By Ayanawo Farada Sanbatu, Haaretz Correspondent
The Ethiopian government announced on Friday it had canceled certain portions of a closure order on a camp in Gondar province used as a community center for approximately 7,000 Falashmura Ethiopians awaiting emigration to Israel, and will allow synagogue and food services to continue within the camp.
However, school services and activities promoting emigration will remain closed.
The decision to close the center was overturned due to diplomatic pressure on the Ethiopian embassy in Washington from the United Jewish Communities of North America, which operate and fund the camp.
The Falashmura did not reside on the camp's premises, but the camp provided the community with services such as a school, a synagogue and a mikveh - a Jewish ritual bath. The center also provided food for the children of the community, and many members of the community were also employed by the facility as teachers and craftspeople.
Avraham Neguise, director of the South Wing to Zion advocacy organization that works to bring Falashmura immigrants to Israel, said in response "we are steadfast in our path to re-open all the activities there. Because of the diplomatic moves, we succeeded in canceling parts of the order, while the Israeli government sat on the side and did not do a thing."
Three weeks ago, the governor of the Gondar province issued a closure order on the camp, following complaints by Christian residents of the area who claimed the camp was a public nuisance and that it was operating illegally.
The implementation of the order was delayed by organizations working for the immigration of Falashmura Ethiopians to Israel. The province's governor rejected the organizations' appeal, and the order went into affect.
The Falashmura are Ethiopians who claim to have converted from Judaism to Christianity in the past, but have since returned to Judaism.
A senior official involved with immigration issues said that in recent weeks two delegations have been sent to Ethiopia to try to improve relations with the government. Ethiopian authorities have criticized the emigration activity as harming the regime's stability.
Two and a half years ago, the Ethiopian government closed the emigration camp in Addis Ababa, claiming it was operating illegally. Today, Israel absorbs 300 new immigrants from the Falashmura community a month.