To see more photographs by Galit Govezensky of the Ethiopian Israeli protests on Memorial Day, visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery.
It is highly symbolic that Memorial Day for the Ethiopian victims who died as they made the long, hazardous journey on foot through Sudan during the late ’70s and in the ’80s is combined with Jerusalem Day that is celebrated on the 28th of Iyar.
Today, there are over 120,000 members of the Beta Israel and the Falashmura community living in Israel. The Beta Israel immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return, mostly in secret mass airlifts known as Operation Moses (1984-1985) and Operation Solomon (1991).
A national ceremony was observed this week at the cemetery on Mount Herzl, which served to commemorate the Ethiopians who never finished the journey. Thousands of community members, including religious leaders (keisim), IDF soldiers, women and the elderly, gather annually to attend this event. Memorial Day for them is meant to honor those who perished along the way, during their exodus on foot through Sudan, on what later turned into “Operation Moses” — a mission in which thousands of members of the community fled oppression and life-threatening predicaments. Since the Ethiopian government banned Jews from leaving its borders to immigrate to Israel, they were able to rapidly depart from Sudan in a covert evacuation organized by the Israeli Defense Forces. To do this, they had to sell all their possessions and embark on a journey of hundreds of miles through Sudan on foot.In that journey, many were murdered and others died of thirst and starvation. It is estimated that 4,000 people, about one-fifth of those who undertook the journey through Sudan, lost their lives in their courageous attempt to fulfill their dream and to reach Israel.
Ironically, for those who were fortunate enough to make it to Israel, the struggle did not reach an end. With their arrival to the Promised Land, the Ethiopian community has experienced ongoing sorrow caused by discrimination and limited rights in many realms, such as educational and employment opportunities, income gaps, and when facing various sectors of society. A particularly tragic event occurred recently which many describe as the straw that broke the camel’s back. This incident was captured on a video clip uploaded to the internet which shows an Ethiopian soldier being brutally beaten by police officers in Holon without justification. Following the assault, a large rally was organized on May 3rd in Tel Aviv, which I also attended. I arrived in the afternoon to the area of the Azrieli Mall, a central landmark in the city. A mass demonstration blocked traffic on major highways and freeways for hours. The protestors chanted repeatedly, waved Israeli and Ethiopian flags and held signs with slogans such as “Uncertain future”, “We will not give up our rights!!”, “Black = White”, and “A policeman hit me because I’m black!”,”Police do not hit me — I WORK FOR YOU” and more. The attire of some young people caught my eye. They were wearing t-shirts with a photo of an Ethiopian man with the inscription “We are all Yosef Salmasa.” In 2014, Yosef Salmasa, who had done nothing wrong and was not accused of anything, was attacked by police. A few months later, his dead body was found;it was surmised that he committed suicide because he had suffered from deep depression following the incident.
As time passed, the protest rally grew rapidly into a huge crowd, mostly young people, especially those belonging to the Ethiopian community, but not only. Many well-known members of Knesset, representatives of youth groups, and journalists came to express their support. At one point, I made my way through the thick crowds with the other demonstrators toward Rabin Square, which is about a mile from the starting point. Thousands marched on Ibn Gabirol Street, one of the main avenues in the city, and blocked traffic. The rally continued on into the night. I was amazed by how clearly they could express their message for social justice in a non-violent manner. They called out for equality and an end to racism. To them, and many others, it is inconceivable that civilians, who serve in the army and pay their taxes thus fulfilling their civil duties, would be marginalized by society on the basis of their skin color. While I have gone to many peaceful demonstrations led by the Ethiopian community, never before had I been to such a powerful one. I felt a sense of pride in the great unity among the participants. Two weeks later, on May 18th, I went to another protest march for the Ethiopian community in Tel Aviv. This time, however, the crowd was smaller and the mood was quieter and more relaxed than the previous rally. As they made their way from Rothschild Boulevard to Rabin Square, the demonstrators called out for freedom from discrimination and equal rights.
I hope that today’s challenging journey for equal rights for the Ethiopian community in Israel will soon come to an end. Moreover, I wish to push their claim even further, arguing that as a marginalized group, a discourse of human and civil rights should take priority over the common discourse of duties, which is less relevant. Racism should not be tolerated. This should be remembered by all, especially on a week like this one, which includes Jerusalem Day, and the Memorial Day to honor those who have died during the Journey from Ethiopia to Israel.
Galit is an Israeli photographer who loves traveling and being exposed to different cultures. She has published articles in travel magazines about the places she has visited and people she has researched. She has held several solo exhibits, and her work has a particular focus on the Ethiopian community living in Israel. Galit went to Ethiopia in 2012 and visited the Falashmura community in Gondar before they immigrated to Israel.