Falash Mura - Falash Mura (or Falashmura) are Ethiopian Christians who are, or claim to be, descendants of Ethiopian Jews, forcibly converted to Christianity in the 19th century. Falash mura is a term in Ge'ez, a Semitic Ethiopian language related to Hebrew. Several derivations have been offered for the words "Falash Mura." Falasha the derogatory term for Ethiopian Jews apparently means outsider, migrant or invader. It may come from the Hebrew root PLSH (ōģł) which means to invade. Mura could come from the root hmr äīų "to convert or change" - as one who changes their religion.
The Falash Mura were evidently not known until Operation Solomon, the airlift of 1991, when a number attempted to board the Israeli planes and were turned away. Later, it developed that about 2000 such persons had managed to come on such flights. The Falash Mura said they were entitled to immigrate because they were Jews by ancestry, but some Israelis claimed they are non-Jews, since most had never practiced Judaism and were not considered by the Beta Israel as part of the community.
A Falash Mura immigrant. Note the cross motif tatoo.
It is not clear that Falash Mura are all Jews under the Law of Return and eligible for immigration under that law. Some may have one or more Jewish parents or grandparents, others do not.
Some Ethiopian Jewry activists claimed that the Falash Mura had been forced to convert or had done so "pro forma" for pragmatic reasons without ever really leaving their Jewish faith. The North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) began to provide aid to the group that had not returned to their homes after being left behind during Operation Solomon. This in turn stimulated more Falash Mura left their villages and soon began to overload the meager resources of NACOEJ. The Joint Distribution Committee provided additional assistance on a humanitarian basis, without accepting the NACOEJ contention that they were Jews entitled to go to Israel.
Absorption of Ethiopian Jews was problematic and expensive. As the numbers of Falash Mura in Addis increased, the Israeli position hardened. The initial official view was that these people were not Jews and, if they had ever been Jews, it was in the distant past. According to this view, most of the so-called Falah Mura were now practicing Christians who wanted to get out of Ethiopia by any means possible and saw an opportunity to escape by claiming to be Jewish and thereby earning the right to immigrate to Israel. An unknown number of Falash Mura were claimed to have forged records to prove Jewish ancestry, or to have married Jews for payment. t was simply not going to absorb the entire Ethiopian population.
The Falash Mura claimed they are Jews who needed help to reconnect with their faith. Given the opportunity, they would become practicing Jews. Subsequently NACOEJ began to offer them religious instruction.
Though the Jewish charity groups in the United States accepted the Israeli government view, the assembly of growing numbers of Falash Mura in Addis Ababa under very poor conditions became increasingly embarrassing. Activists pointed to thousands of poor, starving, sick people who wished only to go to Israel and the argument over their authenticity became secondary to their welfare.
The Israeli government set up a committee in 1992 to resolve the question of the Falash Mura. Some Falash Mura were allowed to immigrate on the basis of the Law of Return, since they had a Jewish grandparent, or on the basis of family reunification. If an Ethiopian Jew married a non-Jew, they would be allowed to bring the non-Jewish spouse's parents with them to Israel. This is in line with the 1970 amendment to the Law of Return
In 1997, all the organizations involved in aiding the Falash Mura decided a solution needed to be found to empty the compounds so no more people would come. The government agreed to a one-time humanitarian gesture to bring to Israel everyone gathered in the camps with some connection to the people of Israel. Afterward, the camps were to be closed and future immigration was to be based on the criteria used for immigration from all other countries. The government agreed that would be allowed to come to Israel in groups of a few hundred per month. In 1998, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the evacuation of the Falash Mura was complete.
However, there were soon more and more Falash Mura gathering in the camps. In early 2001, nearly 20,000 Falash Mura remained in camps in Gondar and Addis. Approximately 8,000 live in their villages near the camps. The Israelis accelerated their consideration of applications. The first priority was being given to divided families, then those eligible under the Law of Return and finally humanitarian or rare special cases. About one of three applicants was found to be eligible.
The Falash Mura got further support in 2002 when Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef declared that the Falash Mura had converted out of fear and persecution and therefore should be considered Jews.
Israel established a quota of 300 immigrants per month. Advocates for the Falash Mura became increasingly upset by the slow pace of the immigration, as reports began to circulate about worsening conditions in the camps where thousands lived awaiting permission to emigrate. It was not clear that the immigration was emptying the camps faster than they were filling.
Ethiopian Jews are dividied in their opinions of Falash Mura, as noted in a 2006 article:ref.
Some Israelis of Ethiopian origin insisted that Falash Mura immigration should be halted, because Christians had been coming with the immigrants and they proceeded to try to convert Ethiopian Jews to Christianity. ref However, soon after, a different group of Israeli Ethiopians protested government and Jewish agency plans to halt Falash Mura immigration to Israel at the end of 2007 ref.
In January 2004, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided that all of the Falash Mura would be brought to Israel by the end of 2007.ref But in 2005 the immigration apparently stalled out because of problems in Ethiopia, and was only renewed at the end of the year. (Keinon, Herb, and Krieger, Hilary, Falash Mura immigration to renew, Jerusalem Post, November 10, 2005).ref A year later, the cabinet had cut funds to Falash Mura immigration, but then restored them (Krieger, Hilary, Cabinet cancels Falash Mura aliya cut, Jerusalem Post, November 13, 2006) ref.
In 2006, an article summed up the problems and the attempt to finally get closure on the number of Falash Mura remaining:
The situation is not really changed as of 2009. An additional complication is that whenever the aliya policy is reviewed or stopped, vicious anti-Zionist propaganda appears in various foreign journals, claiming that Zionism is racist and will not help Ethiopians in distress. Of course, the countries in question would not admit any Ethiopians at all. Again in 2007, there were plans to end the Aliya and protests against the plans ( Pfeffer, Anshel, 1,000 Ethiopian immigrants protest plans to halt Falash Mura aliyah, Haaretz, December 18, 2007 ref). In May of 2008, it was announced that the Falash Mura aliya would end soon (Newman, Gabi, Gates to close on Falashmura, Ynet May 27, 2008 ref) And in June of 2008, we find American Jewish actress ("former Israeli") Natalie Portman protesting on behalf of Falash Mura Aliya (Ababa, Danny Adino, Natalie Portman fights for Falash Mura, Ynet, June 3, 2008 ref )
By August 2008, the Jewish agency had announced that as far as it was concerned, the last of the Falash Murah had been brought to Israel, and the Ethiopian immigration efforts were at an end. ref. They would still extend help to an estimated 1,400 Falash Mura who have concentrated in Gondar and want to be reunited with their families in Israel. In September of 2008, the decision to end the Aliya was reversed. According to the new cabinet decision, Falash Mura would be allowed into Israel if they satisfied three criteria: They must be listed on a 1999 census of the Falash Mura; have been living for at least a year in Gondar where Jewish aid groups have provided services; and have relatives in Israel who can petition on their behalf. The number of such Ethiopians may be as high as 8,700. However, budget cuts threatened to stop the immigration program in April of 2009.ref
The government continues to evacuate the camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa and to periodically announce that the Falash Mura immigration is definitely at an end and that definitely and certainly, no more Falash Mura immigrants will be allowed, or else that the budget had run out and the immigration was stopping, or that it had been renewed due to protests.
The Association of Jewish Federation in the United States raised $900,000 for the Falash Mura initially and voted in June 2005 to raise $100 million ref over three years for Falash Mura aliya and the continued integration of Ethiopians already in Israel. In July 2005, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) decided to increase its aid to Addis Ababa. The JDC gave $40,000 to help curb persistent hunger in the area.
Though some insist that Falash Mura are really Christians masquerading as Jews, there is no doubt about the commitment of many of these people to Israel, the Jewish people and Zionism. A 2003 article noted:
May 3, 2009
Synonyms and alternate spellings: Falashmura
Further Information: Ethiopian Jews
Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:
'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.
ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."
u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.
a- sounded like a in arm
ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.
'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.
o - close to the French o as in homme.
th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.
q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.
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