Beta Israel, also referred to as the House of Israel, is a Jewish community of Ethiopian descent settled in Israel. The community lived in ancient times in the areas of the Ethiopian Empire and the Kingdom of Aksum. Today these areas comprise parts of Ethiopia and Eritrea. In the later part of the 20th century, Beta Israel people emigrated to Israel. The community, which numbers more than 100,000, has today become an intrinsic part of Israel.
Origins and History
The history of the origin of Beta Israel or Ethiopian Jews is a bit hazy as there is no reliable account of how the community came into existence. Thus, there are several versions of their origins. One theory traces the origin of Beta Israel back to the Tribe of Dan, considered to be one of the lost tribes of Israel. One theory traces their origin back to the 10th century during the time of the legendary King Solomon. They were part of an entourage that accompanied Menelik I, King Solomon and Sheba’s son to Ethiopia. Another theory traces Beta Israel’s origins back to 586 BC. Upon the destruction of the First Temple by Babylonians, the members of the tribe migrated to Egypt. They lived there for some years, but when Cleopatra was defeated, another migration took place and some members of the community made their way to Ethiopia.
Emigration to Israel
Beta Israel people lived in Ethiopia for hundreds of years; however, they were facing hardships in the country which included political unrest and famine. They were also facing hostility from Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam who had ousted Emperor Haile Selassie I and ushered in a totalitarian form of government. Taking into account the plight of Beta Israel, in 1977, under the leadership of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel decided to take in members of the community. Initial efforts were made by the Israel’s secret service, Mossad, to relocate members of the community to Israel. Between 1984 to 1991, Operation Moses and Operation Solomon were undertaken which witnessed an estimated 20,000 Ethiopian Jews arriving in the country. The 1990s saw more Ethiopian Jews arriving in Israel.
Today Beta Israelites form around 1 percent of the population of the country which translates roughly to 121,000 people. Though the members of the community have progressed well and overcome many obstacles like language barriers and prejudices against coming from a poor country, they still have not been able to fully integrate into the Israeli society. In comparison to other Israelis, these people occupy a much lower level in terms of economic and education standards.
Nevertheless, they are a valuable part of Israel for significantly contributing to the overall development of the country. Monuments are located in Kiryat Ghat in remembrance of the Ethiopian Jews who died while coming to Israel.