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Israel Admits to Forced Birth Control Ethiopian Women, We Rethink Our Travel Plans

When I was a teenager, I fell in love with a book: The Return by Sonia Levitin. In it, a fifteen year-old Beta/Falasha Jewish girl named Desta leads her family on a ill-fated journey by foot from Ethiopia to Sudan, to ultimately be flown to Israel in what was known as Operation Moses (and later Operation Solomon), a real-life secretive misson staged by the Sudanese and Israeli governments to aid Ethiopian Jews affected by the famine in 1984, and religious persecution for not being Christian, and thus—not receiving any aid.

In it, Desta sees Israel as the promised land, full of hope, opportunity, education and food. However for many Ethiopian Jewish women, this is truly a dream compared to their life in Israel. Reports of rampant racist attacks on Ethiopian Jews and African immigrants alike are not uncommon, and yesterday it was revealed that for at least the past 10 years—the Israeli government has singled out Ethiopian women to receive shots of Depo-Provera contraceptive shots, which are also known to have vigorous side-effects. According to The National:

“I believe there is a deliberate targeting of these women,” said Hedva Eyal, project coordinator at a women’s rights research group in Haifa.

Ms Eyal and other activists say the birth rate in the Ethiopian community has halved in the past 10 years. Her group is one of six that asked the Israeli health ministry to clarify the use of the drug Depo-Provera among Ethiopians.”

Of course, now that they’ve been called out on a national scale for what looks like the forced sterilization of thousands of women, the Health Ministry has ordered the immediate stop on the practice, a different tune since they’ve long denied that it was even in existence. Pretty hard to argue against it when facts like these remain:

“In 2009, Ms Eyal supervised a study that showed 57 per cent of all Depo-Provera users in Israel were Ethiopian although their community comprised less than 2 per cent of the population.

Medical staff have pressured women to take the contraceptive at Israeli-linked transit centres inside Ethiopia that prepare them for immigration to Israel, according to a report last month by Israel Educational Television.

Eight years ago, the report said, officials at the centres threatened to deny an unspecified number of applicants entry into Israel if they refused the drug.”

Aside from being a cruel punishment, inhumane practice—this also speaks to a larger issue around the value of women’s bodies and Black life in the political spectrum globally. To make a woman choose between living a better life and maintaining the right to bear children is unspeakable. But if you look at it, it’s a sickly brilliant play by the Israeli government to control not only the Black population in Israel, but to limit the socio-political power of this community. Ironically, it’s a total play out of the Hitler handbook to eugenics.

So there you have it. Israel hates our (collective) vagina. And while we can’t tell you to not to visit the country (especially as we had hella fun in Tel Aviv), out of respect and protest for my sisters, you won’t see Israel on my passport stamp for a long time—and the sad thing is, they won’t even care.

above: Three small Operation Solomon refugees, Diplomat Hotel, Israel. Photo by Judie Oron

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