I am a tough cookie by nature. I don’t tear up easily. But one of the things that chokes me up every time is seeing olim from Ethiopia getting their new ID cards after a hard-fought legal battle for Israeli citizenship.
By law, all Israelis over 16 years old are required to carry their ID card around, anytime, anywhere. The card is smaller than a passport. It has a blue plastic cover, embossed with a menorah, and the words “Ministry of Interior” and “Identity Card.”
Fortunately, I have had many opportunities for happy tears since IRAC opened the doors of its Legal Aid Center for Olim (LACO) in 1992. This was shortly after Operation Solomon and immediately we filled a void, dealing with the numerous legal problems that olim from Ethiopia were up against.
In the 90s, we were the expert organization in helping olim correct the countless registration errors that resulted from the Interior Ministry’s bureaucratic obstinacy and lack of familiarity with Ethiopia’s different calendar and registration procedures. LACO also helped many olim sue for damages after being exploited by ruthless real estate agents in their quest for permanent housing.
Over the years, the problems have changed. When the Falashmura (descendants of Jews, who require conversion to be recognized as Jews) arrived, single mothers needed our legal assistance to be able to have their children converted without the presence of a father (Israeli law requires the consent of both parents or a court order for the conversion of a minor).
Today, we mostly work on humanitarian cases and family reunifications. Among the hundreds of families we helped reunite with children and parents who were left behind are many children from previous marriages, who remained alone in Ethiopia after the death of the former spouse. We also helped dozens of women, and their Israeli-born children, who were threatened with deportation after leaving abusive Israeli husbands.
Remember our client Aipokoro Molato who, just a few months ago, was wrongfully imprisoned and threatened with immediate deportation to Ethiopia, without being informed of his right to stay in Israel because his children served the IDF (read full story here)? The (very) good news is that he received his Israeli ID card last week. The bad news is that I doubt Aipokoro would have been put in prison if he was white.
As Israel marks 30 years of aliyah from Ethiopia this week, it needs to acknowledge the inequalities faced by black olim. The government has just announced a final-final-aliyah of the remaining 9,000 Falashmura from Addis Ababa. Hopefully lessons were learnt and this newest wave of olim will find a more welcoming, cooperating, Ministry of Interior. However, if they don’t, we will be there, prepared with our motivated and skilled staff, headed by Attorney Nicole Maor, to give them a hand.
And I will be there, prepared with my handkerchief, for the moment they receive their new ID card.