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New Immigrants Who Fled Strife in Ethiopia Now Face War in Israel

Just months after reaching the Jewish state, a group of new arrivals was evacuated from an absorption center near the Gaza border town of Sderot, a target of heavy rocket fire

When Anagu Walle, her husband, and seven of her eight children were sheltering from clashes between armed militias and Ethiopian security forces in Gondar earlier this year, Israel represented a crucial lifeline. But five months after immigrating to the Jewish state, they are again caught up in war.

“Nobody told us about any security problems,” said Walle, who was evacuated from an immigrant absorption center near the Gaza border town of Sderot to the Carmel hills in the north on October 8. “The first we heard about rockets was from my husband’s niece, who immigrated six months ago, a month before us.”

The niece arrived in time for Operation Shield and Arrow in May, which Israel launched in Gaza with the targeted killings of three senior members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.

Walle recalled that when she heard the first siren, on Saturday, October 7, she froze. “My 23-year-old daughter said, ‘Mom, that’s a warning. Let’s get the children together and go into the shelter.’”

Sderot, long a target of rockets from Gaza, has come under repeated attack since Hamas terrorists launched their bloody assault on Israel on October 7. On Sunday, authorities began to evacuate residents still there, ahead of an expected Israeli ground operation in the Gaza Strip.

On October 8, Walle’s family was among 531 new immigrants to be bused out from the city’s Ibin Immigrant Absorption Center. Of these, 451, including 120 children aged 12 and under, were sent to a resort at the religious cooperative community of Nir Etzion, south of Haifa. The rest are in the nearby town of Zichron Yaakov or at the Park Hotel in the coastal city of Netanya.

New immigrants from Ethiopia play cards at the Nir Etzion Resort, northern Israel, October 15, 2023. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

When this reporter visited Nir Etzion, the children from the absorption center were playing on the lawns or sitting in the lobby, doing jigsaw puzzles and playing games, while two groups of fathers played cards.

A Jewish Agency team of 12 has been with the newcomers since they arrived.

Team coordinator Turu Dabasu, 27, who herself immigrated from Ethiopia 20 years ago, noted that immigrants who had been in Israel for some time had become used to sirens and rockets from Gaza.

But the surprise Hamas infiltration and the bloody massacres the terrorists perpetrated in the Gaza area communities were beyond anyone’s imagination, no matter how long they’ve lived in the country. These new immigrants are now in shock.

New immigrant children from Ethiopia get creative at the Nir Etzion Resort, northern Israel, October 11, 2023. (Courtesy, Embet Chekol, Jewish Agency)

With the help of volunteers from Nir Etzion and surrounding communities, “we’re trying to put on two activities a day,” Dabasu said. “We’ve held puppet and laughter workshops for the adults. We’ve had giant inflatables, a magician, and a juggler for the kids.”

A young Ethiopian immigrant from southern Israel has her hair braided to mark the day she would have had her bat mitzvah, had war not broken out in Israel, at the Nir Etzion Resort, northern Israel, October 12, 2023. (Courtesy, Turu Dabasu)

On Thursday, the team marked the day that a group of children should have had their bar and bat mitzvahs.

They brought hairdressers for the girls and organized the boys to sing in memory of the late Ofir Libstein, the head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, who was killed on October 7 during a gunfight with terrorists.

Israelis of Ethiopian origin have been bringing traditional foods to the hotel and held a coffee ceremony. “That opened up conversation on some of the more complex issues,” said Dabasu.

Embet Chekol, who works at an absorption center in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Yam, has been sent to help at Nir Etzion. She said, “Ethiopian women are very closed. The culture is not to show emotions. During the laughter workshop, they were chuckling away. It’s so important for them to open up.”

Some of the emotional scars are already apparent, especially in the children.

Since the war started, 12-year-old Mrte and 7-year-old Ermes have refused to go to the bathroom without an accompanying parent or sibling.

Turu Dabasu outside the Nir Etzion Resort, October 15, 2023. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Many of the new immigrants recently left increasingly intense violence back home.

“We felt very threatened in Gondar,” Walle said in Amharic, as Embet Chekol translated. “We stayed in the apartment around the clock. Economically, it was very tough.”

Walle and her farmer husband had waited 11 years in their hometown of Ismala in west-central Ethiopia and a further nine months in Gondar in the northwest before they got the green light to join their extended family in Israel.

Walle left her elderly, sick parents and her mother-in-law behind. The hardest thing, she said, was separating from her 26-year-old daughter, who is married with two children, and not yet on the list to fly from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv.

Asked whether she regretted coming to Israel, now that the country was at war, Walle replied, “Not for a minute. Our family is here. And besides, we are Jews.”

Source : Times Of Israel