Friday, January 6, 2012

Report: Being Black in Israel


I visited Israel en Palestine during the Christmas holidays and saw many things I didn’t expect to see. One of these things is the striking presence of black people in urban Israel. They represent a diverse people of whom most are Ethiopian Jews who made aliya (i.e. the migration of the jewish diaspora back to Israel) and settled in Israel in the 80’s and early 90’s. Besides this Israeli group it is striking to see many immigrant workers from Africa and Asia, among them West-Africans, Sudanese and Ethiopians.

The Ethiopian Jews are commonly known by the slightly derogatory term Falasha but the name they chose for themselves is Beta Israel (Hebrew for The House of Israel). They are today virtually no Ethiopian Jews anymore in Ethiopia. Israel organized mass migrations in the late 80’s (Operation Moses). If you want to know more about Operation Moses read this.



Many Ethiopian Jews converted to Christianity at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. They faced discrimination and hardship and chose to become Christians in a predominantly Christian country to make their lives easier. However, today many of the descendants of these converts feel they are still Jews and should also have the right for aliya, i.e. to ‘return’ to Israel. These people are named Falash Mura and after many discussions the Israeli government made them eligible for migration although with many restrictions and limitations. More on this phenomenon here.

An excellent movie on this situation is the 2005 Israeli-French film "Go, Live, and Become" , directed by Romanian-born Radu Mihăileanu. The film tells the story of an Ethiopian Christian child whose mother has him pass as Jewish so he can emigrate to Israel and escape the famine looming in Ethiopia. The film was awarded the 2005 Best Film Award at the Copenhagen International Film Festival. See trailer below:


While Ethiopian Jews face discrimination and had a difficult time integrating in Israeli society things are changing. Through the compulsory military service (3 years for men, 2 years for women) they become more and more part of Israeli society, many today prefer to speak Hebrew than the language of their parents. I saw many blacks in the army forces (the Israeli army is omnipresent in Israel and the Palestinian territories, there are many security checkpoints on the West Bank) and I dare to say that 1 out of 20 soldiers I saw, was black.

Still, black Israeli face discrimination (nearly half of all Israeli employers would rather not hire an Ethiopian Jew) and I saw that all dirty jobs in Israel are done by black people. Virtually all janitors I saw looked like Ethiopians, of course I couldn’t tell if they were black Israeli rather than Ethiopian immigrant workers.

Israel wants to protect its Jewish character. So while a Jew can be blond with blue eyes, a brown skinned South Asian, an Arab looking person or even a black African, if you are not Jewish you can actually not migrate to Israel. The Knesset (the Israeli parliament) recently voted a law limiting the years that an immigrant worker can actually reside in Israel to 5 years. Exceptions are made for diplomats’ personal and for non Jewish spouses of Israeli citizens.

Conversion to Judaism is also possible but extremely difficult as you actually have to study the Jewish Holy Scriptures thoroughly, follow the kosher rules strictly and have an orthodox Jewish lifestyle. During this process you are followed by a Rabbi, who will eventually decide if you are a Jew are not. Of course men have to be circumcised and all have to make the ritual immersion in a bath (mikveh). However, there are also Reformist views on conversion that do not expect converts to do as much, wanting ot be a Jew is often enough. However the State of Israel leans upon the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the supreme religious court for these matters. These institutions are mostly dominated by orthodox rabbis. But it is a complicated issue, very alive in Israeli society. For more info read this.

Blacks in Israel are also African Hebrew Israelites also known as Black Hebrews, who settled in Israel in 1969. They are of black American ancestry and were therefore not recognized as Jews. But after decades they have been granted permanent residency status in 2004 and became eligible for military service since then. In 2006, Eddie Butler, a Black Hebrew, was chosen by the Israeli public to represent Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest. They mainly live in the Negev town of Dimona were they form a community of 3000 people, but other families live in other towns too.

Some famous black Israeli of Ethiopian descent are Hagit Yaso (singer), Shlomo Molla (politican) and Abatte Barihun (jazz musician).

Below a video telling the story of the Ethiopian Jews and their exodus to Israel:



10 comments:

  1. Very interesting. There so little information about Africans in Israel! Recently I read on RFI about a young refugee from Guinea who was obtaining success in Tsahal. Having been in Ethiopia, I was wondering what was the fate of the Falasha.

    Thank you for this post.

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  2. Hello, I used part of this post as an update for the network http://globalvoicesonline.org. My submission will be revised by our Editor and translated into French and maybe into one or more of the 20 other languages we use.

    By the way, I quoted one of your posts in another submission on people from the African diaspora who made exceptionnal achievement in their political careers in Europe.

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  3. Thx Abkodo. And that's great you can use the info from this blog to ad in other posts! Thanks for mentioning this blog as a source. I really like global voices online by the way, nice work!

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  4. Life in Israel is far to be simple. The life of Ethiopian Jews in Israel is almost unbearable. I am glad that Ethiopian Jews understand that their condition will improve as time goes by. I do believe in the courage and persistence of Ethiopian Jews to settling down in the Holy Land. I wish the Ethiopian Jews all the best in keeping their old traditions alive. Jews of Ethiopia, please do not give up in your straggle for remaining Jews. The nations of the world need the light of your culture to be shine upon them all!

    Note: I am not black. I am actually white. I take off my hat to this amazing nation that patiently keep up with its current unbearable condition.

    Ethiopian Jews, we all proud of you!

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  5. Thank you for writing this post!

    I added a link to this post on my pancocojams cultural blog: http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2011/11/black-jews-around-world.html

    I don't have words to convey the heights and depths of my concern and hope for Ethiopian Jews. I was fortunate to attend a concert of a teen and adult choir of Ethiopian Jews in Pennsylvania, USA. If they hadn't been singing in another language I would have thought that the choir members were African Americans.

    May God bless them and help them to keep on keepin on.

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  6. thx for featuring this post in your blog azizi!

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  7. Hold on you missed a massive point all the Jews in Israel who control the parliament are converts none of them are true Jews in the sense of being the chosen people don't recall people from the caucus mountain region being the descendants of the original Jews all these so called Jews are of European descent

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  8. Am sooo very tired of the gross historical negligence of so many people. Firstly All europeans jews are converts...thats a historical fact and cant be denied. Most historical scolars knows this. Read the books " the invention of the jewish people" and " the thirteenth tribe". I shouldnt have to provide a historical lesson,all of you should be aware of this. The tribe of israel is a nation of black people. Will ever be has always been. All the phrophets . priest and deciples had to be from from that lineage ONLY!!!! True israel were and has always been in captivity acording to the bible. Ad 70 jerusalem was invaded by roman destroyed it many israelites fron tribe of judah escape to africa and and others were sold to the grecians.that was they punishment for not keeping the laws. Today israel is in captiviry just as dueteronomy 28: 15 to 68 states. Today israel is scattered amont the nations..NOT EMIGRATE OR MIGRATE. TAKEN BY FORCE AND SOLD for bondmen and bond men. They be hidden in prison houses, they name will dissappear, they will be the lowest among other nations suffering, with alternative names ....bywords and proverbs..afro american and negro,coloured etc.ISRAEL HAD TO GO INTO CAPTIVITY IN SHIPS and be sold off.....see who the the phrocey fits in deuteronomy 15....I implore all of you to understsnd this. Its hard to take but please stop this ignorance about isralis are jews ..FOR THEY ARE NOT!! Beni israel or Falashas are Danites from the tribe of dan,,,they jewery predates anythng in israel or or easter europe who are Kazars who converted in the 7 and 8th century. I use to think like you all did until i check the facts for myself.Bible says christ will again gather his chosen from beyond the borders of Ethiopia and from the islands of the sea.Israel is in captivity right now and 99 % of them dont even now they are israel.This was part of the punishment.luke 21: 24 clearly states that Jerusalem will be trodden down by the gentiles until the time of the gentils are fulfilled..mmm wonder who is trodden it down now. The real jews cant return to israel as a nation until the messaih return...according to the bible ..thats when israel will be regathered...so europeans in the land are all gentile. Many dont even know this. Paul was an israelite rom the tribe of benjamin who ministeres to the gentile...GET THIS!! he ministerd and wrote to educated the GENTILES!!!!Ephesians,Thesalonians, Romans, Corinthians etc......look on the map and see where and who they were....LOL...lol...Matter of fact google it!!! They are all europeans better know as the gentiles......History is a beautiful thing and a little reseach would bring you to the truth.


    SHALOM

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  9. The jentiles in the land that have adopted the name Jews or Israelis...NOT ISRAELITES......notice the diference in the two words. Mmm wonder why they dont call themselves Israelites....think about it. I will tell you why..because they are not Israelites. Let me tell you a little about who they are in the land. First you have the decendants of Esau better nown as Edomite or Idumea. He is the twin brother o Jacob who lived in the Petra , present day Jordan who who every time Israel went into captivity they would move into israel and Israel would always have a hard time kicking them out. Bible mentions they are red and hairy and you know them as they also have curly afro like hair.They are the ones who was pushed out of their land by the nabateans into southern Judah. However they got into the land because it was them who aided the Romans when they destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70. The roman allowed them in the land. They were the jews who been in palestine living among the arabs pre 1948. The European jews are converts originally from Kazaria between the caspian and black sea area. Like the Jewish profesor Sholom Sand stated there is nothing wrong with shameful of being a convert. He wrote the book " the invention of the jewish people" He is a prof at the hebrew university in Israel. ALso read the book the Thirteenth Tribe by Arthur Koesler....According to the bible Psalm 83 the name of Israel dissappeared due to others conspiring against it. It describes who they are...read it for urself...WIll givean excerp here " For they have taken crafty councel against thy people and consulted against thy hidden ones. They have said come and let us cut them off from beinga nation that the name of Israel MAY be no more in rememberance. It was the Tabernacle of Edom, and the Ismaelites of Moab and the Hagarenes....Do you know who these people are. Edom/Idumea decendents of Esau are the ones who were in the lasn of palestine pre 1948 living among the So called Arabs who really are the Ismaeilites. SO they can disagree on EVERYTHING , fight from generation to generation but they all agree on ONE THING KEEPING TRUE ISRAEL BLIND AND HIDDEN.

    The Return Of ISrael to they land........No UN resolution or Balfour document will return trueIsraelites to the land it will be christ himself who will return Israel captivity and take them to the land. They will be regather only when christ return from the borders of Ethipia and the Islands of the seas migrate. They had to taken by force and scattered. Had to be sold as slaves into captivity using ship into a strange land that they or they fathers knew of. Israel have to be most hidden in prison houses, have to be the lowest among the nations wherever they are scattered, they had to be sold and traded ..a girl for wine and a boy for harlot. Read Deuteronomy 68:15 to 68 and see the condition that the true Israel should be in NOWWWW!! fo disobeying the law statutes and comandments. They will not even know they are Israel , they will be worshiping other gods, even wood and stone. SO question is if Israel is already gathered in israel; since 1948 who is Christ gathering when he returns according to the bible. The biblse tells you who the gentiles are that call themselves Jew...Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 ..says they lie and that they are the synagogue of Satan. Jemtiles aka jews dont believe in christ the mesaih and dont believe in or read the new testament. They read the 5 books of moses and the Talmud and practice Kabalah....Enogh for today....

    SHalom

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