News / Middle East

Israeli Ethiopian Politician Tells Dramatic Personal Story

Deputy Speaker of Israel's parliament, or Knesset, Shlomo Molla
Deputy Speaker of Israel's parliament, or Knesset, Shlomo Molla
Mike O'Sullivan

The newly elected deputy speaker of Israel's parliament, or Knesset, Shlomo Molla has been sharing his dramatic personal story during a U.S. visit. The Israeli politician was born in Ethiopia, and he speaks about his arduous escape and of challenges he faced in his adopted country.

A black Ethiopian Jew, Shlomo Molla is a member of the minority called Beta Israel that has survived for centuries in small communities in northern Ethiopia. He says before his arrival in Israel in 1984, he had seen few white people, but after he arrived was surrounded by them.

He was determined to adapt, learning Hebrew and starting to make a life in his new country.

Molla recalls he had grown up with the idea of one day reaching the historic Jewish homeland. “I came to Israel in 1984, when I was a young teenager.  And I left my family behind, and I left my nine brothers and two sisters, and I said, I have to go to Zion, to Jerusalem," he said.

It was a grueling journey for Molla and the other young men with him. “Through the desert, through the jungles, no food, no shoes. And after we walked 780 kilometers, we came inside Sudan, we were arrested by Sudanese," he said.

Sudanese troops shot at the group, killing Molla's friend and jailing the survivors for 91 days. “We were tortured by Sudanese. They said we are the spies of Israel. They said we are the spies of Ethiopia.  We said we are not," he said.

At the end of three months, the young men were released to a refugee camp, where they met and were helped by an agent of the Israeli intelligence service. “He was a white person. That was my second time to meet a white person. And he was speaking our language, Amharic.  He was an amazing person," he said.

They made their way north to the town of Kassala, Sudan, where they were flown to Israel.

Three larger operations in the 1980s and '90s, called Operation Moses, Operation Joshua and Operation Solomon, rescued thousands more of the Ethiopian Jews. More were given help to relocate in recent years, but thousands of others died making the journey, mostly from hunger.

For centuries, Ethiopia's tiny Jewish community had lived alongside Christians and Muslims, often facing persecution.

Today, most have made the journey to Israel. Molla says 130,000 Ethiopian Jews live there, and 30 percent of them are Israeli-born. Others who remain in Ethiopia are mostly Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity, but have since returned to the practice of Judaism. Called Falash Mura, their status is debated in Israel, but the nation has accepted some as immigrants.

Molla says many Ethiopian Jews are doing well in Israel, especially the younger ones, who include lawyers, doctors and diplomats. Molla is the second Israeli Ethiopian to join the Knesset. “But my parents, my father, my mother, my uncles, those people who came at the age of 50 and 45 and up, it is very difficult for them. They do not know the language. They are working, but they always get minimum salary because they are not professionals. And it is difficult," he said.

Trained in Israel as a social worker and lawyer, Shlomo Molla is involved in helping his fellow Israeli Ethiopians. As a leading member of the opposition Kadima party, he is also involved in national issues and promotes renewed negotiations with the Palestinian authority, saying a two-state solution is the only path to Mideast peace. He will take up his duties as deputy speaker of the Knesset in late October.  

He believes Israeli Ethiopians can play an important role in their country's future. He says he is heartened by the election of an African-American, Barack Obama, as U.S. president in 2008.  He notes that it took two centuries to accomplish that. “But I hope in Israel, it is not going to take 200 years. I hope in a few years, we will have a prime minister in Israel," he said.

Molla spoke in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts, a synagogue housed in an historic theater with many members in the entertainment business. He had other speaking engagements in Chicago, New York and Boston.

You May Like

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More