By Justin Mhaka
Aliyah, the immigration of Jews to Israel, is an integral part of the Jewish nation’s existence. Making Aliyah – or, going to Israel – is regarded as one of the most basic tenets of Zionism.
Israel’s controversial law of return grants automatic citizenship to Jews who emigrate to Israel. Since 1948, over 3 million Jews from as far afield as Russia, Syria, Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, Germany and Ethiopia, amongst other countries, have made the journey to the small middle-east nation.
But life has hardly been Kosher for the roughly 50 000 Ethiopian Jews who have emigrated to Israel. In 2015, Damas Pakada, an Ethiopian-born Israel Defence Force soldier, was the victim of an unprovoked attack by two policeman in Tel Aviv.
The notorious incident, which was captured on video – and famously went viral, provoked passionately violent protests by Ethiopian-Israeli jews. 43 arrests were made. 65 people, including both protesters and police, were injured. The protests also sparked fears Israel’s integration policy’s not working as well as it should be. While Ethiopian-Israelis say they are the victims of institutionalised racism and discrimination.
They may be on to something: Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein declined to prosecute the policemen filmed assaulting Pakada, saying he had in fact provoked the attack. “Israel is one of the most racist countries in the world,” said Tahunia Rubel, an Ethiopian-born Israeli model and actress”.
In 2013, the Israeli health ministry admitted Ethiopian-Israeli women were routinely injected with Depo-Prover, a controversial contraceptive without their knowledge or consent. Social workers suspected something was amiss when they discovered the birthrate among Ethiopian-Israelis had inexplicably halved within the space of a decade.
Sava Reuben, an Ethiopian-Israeli, who has lived in Israel for 32 years claims the decision to administer Depo-Prover surreptitiously was tacitly calculated and meticulously planned. “It is my opinion that this is a deliberate policy on the part of Israel. They are taking advantage of women who are weak because they are new to the country, do not understand the language and who traditionally respect authority. It makes me more than angry.”
Sava interviewed some women who claimed they were arm-twisted into accepting shots of Depo-Prover. “No, we didn’t want to take it, we refused. We said we didn’t want it,” an unnamed woman said. She claimed Israeli doctors threatened to block her emigration to Israel and deny her healthcare if she refused to take Depo-Prover.
Benjamin Netanyau, the prime minister of Israel, has pledged to take action. “It is our duty to fight racism and discrimination in any way possible,” Netanyahu said, before adding that all Israelis “have duties as well as rights, and must refrain from violence.
“It should be understood that Israelis of Ethiopian origin are Israelis in every respect,” he added.