Ethiopian Jewish nurse seething over racism

TZRIFIN, Israel — On the day after the violent Ethiopian demonstration in Jerusalem, Esther Tadela, a 22-year-old Ethiopian immigrant nurse, stayed home from work.

"I take care of sick Israelis, and I just didn't want to take care of them today," she said. "Their children and their grandchildren are likely to call me `kushi masriach' [stinking nigger]."

Tadela was visiting an Ethiopian girlfriend in the mobile home park in Tzrifin, near Ben-Gurion Airport. These mobile home parks are crime-ridden shanty towns for Israel's poorest Jews, mainly Ethiopian and Russian immigrants. Scrap metal and garbage lie everywhere.

Of the 60,000 Ethiopians who've come to Israel since 1984, some 1,700 families still haven't rented or bought apartments, and continue to live in the mobile homes, said Rabbi Micha Odenheimer, head of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews.

Tadela, who lives in the nearby city of Ramle with her parents, went to Sunday's demonstration, and on the van ride home says people edged away from her.

"You could see they were afraid. When I got in they started whispering among themselves. They didn't say anything to me. Sometimes silence says the most."

This is not the first time she has had an unwelcome reception on public transportation.

"Many, many times I get on a bus and a kid calls me `kushi masriach.' Adults never say anything. But when I ask the kids where they got that name, they tell me they heard it from their parents. Where else?"

Tadela came here from Addis Ababa in 1985. In her view, Israel has given the Ethiopians the short end of the stick from the beginning. "They sent us to live in some hole and said, `Go study.' They think we're stupid, but I saw how the Ethiopians did in nursing school and how the Israelis did…"

A thin, attractive woman, Tadela's brow wrinkles in anger as she speaks. "How do you think we feel when we send our brothers to fight for the country, and then we find out that they've killed themselves?" she said, referring to a recent suicide of an Ethiopian Jewish soldier who was reportedly harassed for his skin color.

But the revelation about the blood donations was the worst. "Of course the policy was because of racism. They threw Ethiopian blood into the garbage. What is this, a second Germany?"

Since the blood scandal came out, she says, "I feel like a different person. I used to take all the patronization and everything quietly. Not anymore. Now I just can't stand Israelis, I hate them. That's the way I feel, and that's the way I'm going to act."

Asked if she thought future Ethiopian demonstrations would be as violent as the one in Jerusalem, she replied, "That wasn't violent. That was nothing. If we don't have our demands satisfied, then you will see violence."