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BBC's Paul Adams reports from Jerusalem
"Many Falash Mura have relatives already in Israel"
 real 28k

Sunday, 9 April, 2000, 08:15 GMT 09:15 UK
Israel investigates Ethiopian 'Jews'
Falash Mura flying to Israel
Thousands of Falash Mura came to Israel in the 80s and early 90s
Israeli Interior Minister Natan Sharansky is visiting Ethiopia to investigate the claims of some 26,000 Ethiopians who say they are Jewish and want to move to Israel.

They belong to the Falash Mura community - Jews who converted to Christianity generations ago.

Under Israeli law, Jews anywhere in the world have the right to citizenship. But Israel has expressed doubts that many of the claimants are eligible.

Israeli officials say large numbers of impostors are attempting to escape Ethiopia's poverty and famine.

Thousands of Ethiopians are living in compounds in Addis Ababa and Gondar hoping to be allowed to immigrate to Israel.

Claiming Jewish ancestry

During the mid-1980s and early 1990s thousands of Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel.

North American aid organisations believe 26,000 more Falash Mura are eligible to immigrate under Israel's law of return.
Natan Sharansky
Sharansky: Wants swift answers for applicants

But sceptical Jewish Agency officials argue that the number of eligible people is no more than 5,000.

Many Falash Mura left their homes and farms two years ago believing that they were about to be allowed to go to Israel.

About 18,000 live in refugee camps near the Israeli embassy in Addis Ababa and consular building in Gondar.

Mr Sharansky says he wants to make a more accurate assessment of the situation himself and that the purpose of his trip is to minimise the suffering of those waiting.

"Even those people who are not eligible have to get their answer as soon as possible," he said before leaving Jerusalem.

Jewish roots

Israel's government has never recognised the Jewish status of the Falash Mura because their ancestors converted to Christianity.

Members of the community argue they never lost their Jewish roots but they were forced to convert for economic reasons.
Ethiopia famine
Israel says many Falash Mura are attempting to escape poverty and famine

Many have relatives in Israel making it difficult for the government simply to turn down all applicants.

Falash Mura who go to Israel undertake a one and a half year "Return to Israel" course. This includes intensive study, a commitment to observe orthodox rituals, and, for the men, a symbolic circumcision ceremony.

BBC Jerusalem correspondent Paul Adams says activists for the would-be immigrants will take heart from the fact that Mr Sharansky - a man so closely identified with the cause of Russian Jews - has now chosen to turn his attention to this difficult problem.

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06 Apr 00 | Africa
Tough job ahead in Ethiopia
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