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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 13:39 GMT

World: Africa

Ethiopian Jews struggle in Israel

More than 70,000 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel still have major difficulties integrating, nearly 15 years after the airlift which brought many of them from Africa.

An Israeli report says that 75% of them cannot write Hebrew, and nearly half cannot hold a simple conversation in the lauguage.

The report, commissioned by Israel's Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, says that the unemployment rate among the Ethiopian community in Israel is at least three times the national average.

[ image: Assimilation has proved difficult for Ethiopian Jews]
Assimilation has proved difficult for Ethiopian Jews
It adds that the cultural gap between the Ethiopians and other Israelis remains wide, and their Jewishness has been questioned by the religious authorities.

More than 1,000 families are still living in the caravans in the reception centres where they were placed on arrival in Israel, and 45% of parents cannot pay for their children's schooling, the report said.

However, the military is one area of Israeli life where Ethiopian Jews are making a positive impact, with nearly all young Ethiopian males doing national service and more than 50 Ethiopians having been made officers, the report said.

Biblical airlifts

Ethiopia's Jews first captured the attention of the world in the 1980s, when a series of airlifts transported almost an entire population from their famine-stricken birthplace - the majority of them in two vast operations:

[ image: Most of the Ethiopian Jews left in airlifts in 1984 and 1991]
Most of the Ethiopian Jews left in airlifts in 1984 and 1991
In 1984, Operation Moses saw the airlift of 15,000 Jews who had already fled to refugee camps in Sudan to escape starvation.

And in 1991, Operation Solomon flew 20,000 Jews to Israel from Ethiopia itself.

A further airlift began in June this year, aimed at transporting the last 3,000 members of the Quara Jewish community from north-eastern Ethiopia to Israel.

Members of the 18,000-strong Felash Mura community are also seeking to emigrate, but are not recognised as Jewish by the Israeli authorities.

Unlike Russian immigrants, many of whom arrive with job skills, the Ethiopians came from a subsistence economy and were ill-prepared to work in an industrialised country.

And some immigrants who had spent years as refugees found it hard to adapt to life as independent citizens once again.

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