Ethiopian Immigrants: Why Place Us So Far From Job Possibilities?

Meager stipends and the distance from industrial centers have brought 750 Ethiopian immigrants to penury.

The scenery outside the Jewish Agency absorption center near Kibbutz Beit Alfa in the Jezreel Valley is breathtakingly beautiful. But this is of no consolation to the 750 immigrants from Ethiopia who reside there: They complain that meager stipends and the distance from industrial centers have brought them to penury.

Earlier this month, 120 people from the center set up a permanent protest vigil opposite the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem to complain that life in the center, situated five kilometers from the kibbutz, offers no employment opportunities.

Tsainish Adamams, a mother of nine, resides in the center with her husband and all her children. They live in a three-room apartment where the children sleep on bunk beds. "I support the demonstrators," she said.

For eleven months, the Adamams were eligible for a monthly stipend from the Absorption Ministry. After that, they went to the Social Affairs Ministry to obtain welfare while the ministry attempted to help them find work. Together, husband and wife receive NIS 1,770 a month, of which approximately NIS 650 goes for rent, electricity and water. That leaves them NIS 1,120 per month, which according to Tsainish Adamams is not enough to feed everyone.

"All we are asking for is work and a good education for our children," she said. "But we can't afford to feed them properly. They go to school on an empty stomach. And you can't expect them to study properly when they're hungry."

Andulam Bazeh, also 38, complains of hunger as well. "There are seven of us living in a two-room apartment," he said, "but that's not the problem. That won't break us. It's the hunger."

Bazeh has been living at the center with his family for the past 17 months. Like his neighbors, he, too, complains that he is isolated from the rest of his family in Israel.

The immigrants explain that any money they obtain goes toward buying food. They cannot afford bus fare as well.

A Jewish Agency representative who joined Haaretz's crew at the Beit Alfa absorption center wrote down all the complaints voiced by residents.

"Every person living at the Beit Alfa center has asked to be transferred to a more central locale," said Avi Mespin, spokesman for the Israeli Association for Ethiopian Jews. "The Jewish Agency has done great things for Ethiopian Jews. I find it difficult to understand why it housed these 750 immigrants in a godforsaken place that offers no employment."

The Jewish Agency and the Absorption Ministry replied that they formed a joint committee to review the immigrants' claims, and its conclusions will be submitted today. They added that the immigrants are entitled to "comprehensive" financial assistance.