JERUSALEM -- “Don’t look at me like a savage,” declares Molat Araro. Until relatively recently, the 26-year-old was almost completely unknown within his Israel-based community of Falashas, black Ethiopian Jews. And he was even more anonymous in the rest of the Hebrew state where these Africans, who are taken for descendants of the mythical Queen of Sheba, are usually very discreet.
But everything changed when this physical education student set off on a march against racism, wearing an Israeli flag and with half his face painted blue. This pilgrimage took him from Kiryat Malahi, a small town in the south of Israel where 20% of the inhabitants are Falashas, to the doors of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem.
Approximately 5,000 other Falashas were waiting for him there to denounce the discrimination they face in Israel. “When our parents emigrated en masse at the start of the 1980s, they thought they were escaping to paradise. But all they have found is contempt,” says Adissu Mohal, a 40-year-old supermarket employee. “Not a day goes by without someone treating me like a cockroach because of the color of my skin.”
“They should be grateful”
The Falashas discontent spilled over three weeks ago when the white inhabitants of Kiryat Malahi agreed in writing not to rent or sell any goods to the blacks. The town hall supported the agreement. “We don’t want these shits in our buildings,” town residents told television reporters. In response, the Falashas, who hadn’t protested since 1995, took to the streets. “We are just like you, listen to us!” the protestors shouted.
Israel’s minister for immigration and integration, on the other hand, denies that a problem exists. Minister Sofa Landver, a Russian-born therapist, said the Falashas would be well advised to keep quiet. “They should be grateful to the State for everything that has been done for them,” she said.
It is this kind of open disdain that spurred 5,000 ex-Ethiopians to give Molat Araro a hero’s welcome upon his arrival in Jerusalem. They hope to protest in even greater numbers in Tel Aviv over the coming months.
“In Israel, you don’t get anywhere if you don’t shout. The time has come to act, because our situation is unbearable,” says Kfissa, a single mother whose two daughters, aged 8 and 11, remain at home because no school will accept them. “We have had enough of not being good enough for anything except emptying bins for a meager wage or begging for welfare.”
There are only about 100,000 Falashas in Israel. Together they represent just 1.5% of the population and have no representation in government. A disturbing sign of just how desperate conditions are for some Falashas are the numerous murder-suicide cases that have occurred over the past decade. There have been at least 30 cases of unemployed and depressed Falasha men killing their wives and children before taking their own lives. Dozens of others have attempted, unsuccessfully, to do the same.
Aware of the seriousness of the problem, the Ministry of Immigration commissioned a study in 2009, but the results were so damning for the State’s integration policies that the most sensitive chapters were never released.
Read the original article in French
Photo - Vladim Lavrusik