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Members of the Falashmura community in Ethiopia, waiting to immigrate to Israel. (Photograph: Anshel Pfeffer)

Israel Admits Forced Birth Control For Ethiopian Immigrants

'We were afraid ... We didn't have a choice ... So we accepted the injection'

Beth Brogan

The Israeli government has admitted to routinely forcing women of Ethiopian origin to be injected with long-acting birth control.

The admission followed an investigation by Israeli television journalist Gal Gabbay in which women who immigrated from Ethiopia eight years ago said they were told they would not be allowed into Israel unless they agreed to be injected with Depo-Provera, Haaretz reported.

In a letter published Sunday in Haaretz, Israel Health Minister Director General Prof. Ron Gamzu instructed the country's four health maintenance organizations to stop the practice and instructed "all gynecologists in the HMOs not to renew prescriptions for Depo-Provera for women of Ethiopian origin if for any reason there is concern that they might not understand the ramifications of the treatment," Haaretz reported.

In December, Haaretz reported on Gabbay's findings:

The women say that while waiting in transit camps in Ethiopia prior to immigration they were placed in family planning workshops where they were coaxed into agreeing to the injection—a charge denied by both the Joint Distribution Committee, which ran the clinics, and the Health Ministry.

"We said we won't have the shot. They told us, if you don't you won't go to Israel And also you won't be allowed into the Joint (American Joint Distribution Committee) office, you won't get aid or medical care. We were afraid... We didn't have a choice. Without them and their aid we couldn't leave there. So we accepted the injection. It was only with their permission that we were allowed to leave," recounted Emawayish, who immigrated from Ethiopia eight years ago

The government at the time denied the women's claims, saying that they offered family planning workshops to immigrants, "but we do not advise them to have small families," according to Haaretz.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and other activist groups accused the government of a "racist attitude," Euronews reported, noting that studies by some groups indicate the birth rate by Israel's Ethiopian community has decreased by half in the last decade.

Haaretz notes:

The women's testimony could help explain the almost 50-percent decline over the past 10 years in the birth rate of Israel's Ethiopian community. According to the program, while the women were still in transit camps in Ethiopia they were sometimes intimidated or threatened into taking the injection. "They told us they are inoculations," said one of the women interviewed. "They told us people who frequently give birth suffer. We took it every three months. We said we didn't want to.

A letter from Sharona Eliahu-Chai of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, representing women's rights and Ethiopian immigrants' groups, demanded the injections immediately end and an investigation be conducted.

"Ziva Mekonen-Dego, chief executive of the Israel Assn. for Ethiopian Jews, welcomed the ministry's response but said this was the bare minimum," the Los Angeles Times reports. "'We expect the health ministry to take full responsibility for the women,' she said. Together with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the organizations demand the ministry assemble a team of health-care professionals and cultural facilitators to supervise the women's medical and emotional welfare.'"

Author and Electronic Intifada co-founder Ali Abunimah writes that the practice may be in violation of the Genocide Convention, and should be taken in the context of a history of discrimination against Ethiopians by Israel:

[I]f indeed the goal of those who administered the program was to target Ethiopian women, and to reduce the number of births they have, then the policy may be a crime under Article II(d) of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Reasonable suspicion

If the coercive contraception program were administered against women in general, it would be unethical and abhorrent, but it can only be genocidal if it is done “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group, as such.”

In this case, there is no allegation that the policy was employed against anyone except Ethiopian women. That would be one indication of targeting.

These Ethiopian women emigrated to Israel under the “Law of Return,” Israel’s racist policy to only allow those it considers Jews into the country, while keeping out indigenous Palestinians.

But remember, Israeli officials and state rabbis long delayed or denied entry to tens of thousands of Ethiopians whose Jewishness did not meet official standards.

In the early 1990s, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir accused thousands of Ethiopians of secretly being Christians.

Ethiopians, even those who came under the Law of Return and are recognized as Jews, have faced a long, documented history of state and societal discrimination including being forced to attend segregated schools.


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