Israeli Probe Into Ethiopian Women's Allegations of Forced Birth-control Injections Refused to Hear Complainants' Testimony

Comptroller nonetheless concluded inquiry into historic affair by claiming that injections of long-acting contraceptive Depo-Provera had not been forced on them.

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Falashmura Community Center, Gondar, Northern Ethiopia.
Falashmura Community Center, Gondar, Northern Ethiopia.Credit: Moshik Brin
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The State Comptroller’s Office did not talk to women immigrants from Ethiopia who alleged they were given contraceptive shots without their knowledge or consent, Haaretz has learned.

The comptroller nonetheless concluded his inquiry into the affair by stating that the injections had not been forced on them. State Comptroller Joseph Shapira says in his probe summary that neither the Health Ministry nor health maintenance organizations in Israel had issued instructions to inject the immigrants from Ethiopia with the long-acting contraceptive Depo-Provera.

In 2012, Educational Television journalist Gal Gabbay reported in an expose that while the women were still in transit camps in Ethiopia, they were sometimes intimidated or threatened into taking the injections. They were told the Depo-Provera shots were vaccinations and that unless they agreed to have them they would not be allowed to enter Israel, they said in the expose. “They told us they are inoculations,” one of the 35 women interviewed in the program said. “They told us people who frequently give birth suffer. We took it every three months. We said we didn’t want to.”

Ethiopian women in Israel. Some have said they were coerced into taking birth control before and after arriving in Israel.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Earlier this month, Shapira wrote there was no evidence that the women were required to take birth-control shots against their will. His findings are due to be released in full next week. However, the comptroller’s probe into the role of the Joint Distribution Committee, whose activists looked after the women in the Ethiopian transit camps, leaves open questions, the report shows. The JDC official who handled family programming in Ethiopia refused to give the comptroller any information, and in 2012 alone some 360 women who were slated for immigration received the shots.

The comptroller’s conclusion that no evidence was found that the shots were administered under pressure or threats is not in keeping with Gabbay’s TV expose. The program included testimonies of women who said they had been forced to take the shots as a condition for immigrating to Israel. They also said they were threatened and that information about the injection was concealed from them.

Officials in the comptroller’s office said they did not talk to these women while investigating the affair and did not refute the women’s allegations.

A coalition of social action organizations said in response that “one wonders how a thorough, reliable investigation could be conducted without talking at all to the harmed women.”

The comptroller conducted the inquiry from November 2013 to March 2015, at the request of female Knesset members. He inquired into the goings-on in the transit camps before the women’s immigration and in absorption centers, the Health Ministry and HMOs after their arrival.

The inquiry into the pre-immigration period found no unequivocal evidence of the absence of coercion, in contrast to the probe in Israel. The investigation was mainly held with the Jewish Agency, JDC and Health Ministry, who dealt with the women waiting to immigrate to Israel and against which the women’s main accusations were leveled. The comptroller says no evidence was found of forced injections, but also said it was difficult to investigate the Jewish Agency and JDC, as the two organizations are not subject to state comptroller investigation.

Members of the Falashmura community in Ethiopia in 2013, waiting to immigrate to Israel Credit: Anshel Pfeffer

The report finds that the Jewish Agency did not deal with family planning or health matters in its work to bring Ethiopians to Israel. However, the query into the JDC is not so clear-cut. The comptroller tried to contact Dr. Rick Hodes, who ran the JDC’s clinic in Addis Ababa from the 1990s. But he received no reply. The clinic Hodes was in charge of dealt with family planning, the report says.

JDC deputy CEO Aviv Shaviv says in the report that Hodes mainly dealt with preventing infectious diseases and hygiene education in the JDC’s clinic in Ethiopia. At these meetings the women inquired about birth control and the medical teams told them about the Depo-Provera shots.

According to information from the JDC, in 2012 407 women participated in family-planning lessons in the clinics and 361 of them were given Depo-Provera shots. The rest took birth control pills. It is unclear how many women received the shots while waiting to enter Israel and the JDC has no figures about the years before 2012.

“Mr. Shaviv stressed that the medical information was given by Amharic-speaking nurses. Women who chose to take part in the meetings did so of their own free will. They decided themselves whether to use contraceptives, what kind and whether to switch from one to another. He said the allegations for giving shots under pressure were groundless,” the report says.

The investigation in Israel concludes unequivocally that no instructions were given to begin or continue administering Depo-Provera shots to immigrants from Ethiopia. The four HMOs and Health Ministry said there was no policy to administer or encourage the use of such injections.

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