Ethiopia, Israel relations amidst conflict

Conflict, although an unpleasant feet, has been a common denominator that both Ethiopia and Israel has had to deal with in recent times. With Ethiopia bouncing back from civil war, now Israel has been the center of the world’s attention following the ongoing conflict with the Hamas. 

In the midst of the chaos, Capital reached out to the Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia, Aleleign Admasu, for insights of the two countries current relations. Excerpts;

Capital: What is the current state of diplomatic relations between Israel and Ethiopia? Are there any recent developments or initiatives that have strengthened the bilateral ties between the two countries?

Aleleign Admasu: The current diplomatic relations between both countries is thriving and we are working greatly with the Ethiopian government through the embassy on a plethora of issues such as health, agriculture, innovation as well as people to people ties through religion.

As is well known, the past two years have not been easy for Ethiopia stemming from the civil war which to some degree had perturbed our engagements in matters investment related to the country, but as the situation continues to get better, our investment prospects are also equally growing.

Similarly, this year has not been easy for us, as you well know from the Israel- Hamas war. Nonetheless, that has not derailed our diplomatic partnership as our relations have been longstanding. Furthermore, our cultural ties through the Ethiopian Jews is one that has been there since time immemorial.

Capital: How would you describe the economic cooperation between Israel and Ethiopia? Are there any significant Israeli investments or projects in Ethiopia, particularly in sectors like agriculture, technology, or infrastructure?

Aleleign Admasu: We enjoy a conducive pipeline of economic cooperation at different levels and sectors.

We are actively involved in the economic prosperity of the country through major projects. We have a significant presence in the mining sector courtesy of the mining company, Leica Geosystems.    

We are also big in infrastructure development and we are liaising with Ethiopian Airlines through the opening up of a fairly new center in Ethiopia that converts passenger airplanes into cargo planes.

We are also active in the agricultural space. We have multiple Israeli NGOs who are helping farmers to enhance their produce through trainings on food security.

Likewise, Israel has been keen on sharing its expertise. To this end, we cooperate with health institutions in different parts of Ethiopia through exchange of experience, cardiology and other fields.

Capital: Ethiopia is home to a significant Jewish community known as the Beta Israel or Ethiopian Jews. What efforts are being made to support and strengthen the connection between these Ethiopian Jews and the State of Israel?

Aleleign Admasu: Today, Israel is home to the largest Beta Israel community in the world, with close to 200,000 thousand Ethiopian descent who are mainly assembled in the smaller urban areas of central Israel.

In the past three years, a couple of thousand of the Ethiopian Jewish community have migrated to Israel, and the government is trying its level best to set aside the budget to cater for their integration in the country.

The Ethiopian Jews’ integration in Israel has been challenging, truth be told, with the community suffering disproportionately high levels of unemployment and poverty as well as discrimination, although their situation has shown signs of improvement in recent years.

Capital: Ethiopia has faced several challenges in recent years, including political instability, regional conflicts, and humanitarian crises. How does Israel contribute to addressing these challenges and providing assistance to Ethiopia in times of need?

Aleleign Admasu: The past two to three years have not been easy for Ethiopia by any stretch of the imagination. Israel has had historical relations with the country and that also translated in our humanitarian efforts to provide aid to Ethiopia in its time of need.

Through various approaches we rendered support and the Israeli NGOs present also helped significantly in aiding for the recovery of the families in need. Moreover, the Ethiopian diaspora in Israel came together and pulled their financial resources to support the government through donations.

Again, the conflict was also came as an overlap to the global pandemic and during that time also we were active in donating the necessary equipment for the health sector in general.

Capital: In the realm of education and cultural exchange, are there any programs or initiatives that promote mutual understanding and cooperation between the people of Israel and Ethiopia? How do these programs contribute to fostering strong people-to-people ties?

Aleleign Admasu: The people of Ethiopia and Israel have a rich history. This has also been embedded through the sharing of culture. It could be as simple as teaching the Israeli locals to eat Injera and other Ethiopian cuisine, or even sharing tradition through dressing ‘Kemis’ or shorts ‘Kunta’.

Of course, religion as earlier mentioned has played an integral role in strengthening people to people ties. A lot of Ethiopians go to pray in Jerusalem and Golgotha. We do have thousands of people every year who come to experience the various biblical sites from Ethiopia.

Although our customs and traditions are unique they also share equal similarities, thus it is easy to integrate one with the other, which is an ease to the people to people assimilation. This ease has brought the two together, and that has been evident with the Ethiopian Jews support, who have stood with the country during the attack of the Hamas.

Capital: Climate change and environmental issues are global concerns. How does Israel collaborate with Ethiopia in areas such as water management, renewable energy, and sustainable development to address these challenges?

Aleleign Admasu: Israel is a country that is big on sustainability and uses top notch technology to tackle its everyday challenges. For, example, since its founding in 1948, Israel has never stopped inventing agricultural technologies that greatly improve farming everywhere. Now this continuing ag-tech innovation enables farmers to use water and fertilizer more efficiently, grow crops resistant to disease and drought, and harness data above and below ground to increase quality and quantity.

Furthermore when it comes to water management, Israel has plenty of expertise in desalination. As a water-insecure nation, we have for more than two decades been taking seawater from the Mediterranean and treating it through a process called reverse osmosis, essentially taking the salt out of the water to make it drinkable.

When it comes to sustainable energy, most countries are seeking to increase energy generation from renewable sources amid an escalating climate crisis that is warming the planet at an unprecedented pace.

Israel’s most recent target is to generate 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, mainly solar energy, by 2030.

In all of these movements, we have committed ourselves to not only share our expertise with Ethiopia but also with the whole continent. We continue to do so, through pledges that we have agreed upon with the Ethiopian government.

Capital: Ethiopia plays a significant role in regional dynamics within the Horn of Africa. Can you provide insights into Israel’s approach to regional diplomacy and cooperation in the context of the Horn of Africa, and specifically with Ethiopia?

Aleleign Admasu:  Diplomatic developments over the past decade have grown in pace between the East African countries at different levels of engagement and capacity. Israel has played its role in technological advances to support the Horn and as a nation, we do recognize how pivotal Ethiopia is to the region. Overall, the foreign policy in the region is positive, and we have a uniform approach to strengthen our elations in the region.

Capital: Are there any ongoing or upcoming joint projects or collaborations between Israel and Ethiopia that you would like to highlight? How do you envision these initiatives contributing to the long-term relationship between the two countries?

Aleleign Admasu: We do have numerous projects, from investment opportunities to knowledge sharing and capacity building.

We have been working with farmers and have been sharing our know how in agri-tech. Similarly, we have had our medical experts share expertise with their counterpart Ethiopian health professionals, we do also have other collaborations with the government in the pipeline.  

Capital: Ethiopia has a rich historical and cultural heritage. Are there any efforts being made to promote cultural exchanges, tourism, or heritage preservation between Israel and Ethiopia?

Aleleign Admasu: Culture and historical heritage have been a great propellant to attracting tourism to both countries. Israel has nearly, 5 million visitors annually because of its historical sites. Similarly, Ethiopia has a unique culture and having not been colonized makes it even stand out more. It has numerous attractive sites like Axum, Lalibela and so on.  When we talk about promotion, I feel this goes hand in hand with the country’s security. So in order for us to promote this, we both need to be stable, peace wise. So our focus should primarily be focused on security first, because our selling point of our country is unique when it comes to heritage and history.

Capital: What are your personal priorities and goals as the Israel Ambassador to Ethiopia? How do you envision further enhancing and deepening the relationship between the two countries during your tenure?

Aleleign Admasu: Being that I was born in Ethiopia, I do feel that there is a great sense of responsibility resting over my shoulders to elevate the comprehensive relationship between the two countries. Of high priority is enhancing peace to both our countries because without peace all other relations whether economic, political or social may not thrive.

It is my vison to ensure that we continue to have amicable diplomatic relations built on mutual trust. I would love my time in office to be remembered for the multiple opportunities presented through investment, sharing of innovation, tighter government relations and more economic flow through job creation.

Capital: Describe the genesis of the war and the current state of the war between Israel and Hamas? 

Aleleign Admasu; The ongoing armed conflict between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian militant groups began chiefly in and around the Gaza Strip since 7 October 2023, with clashes also taking place in the West Bank and Israel–Lebanon border. On that day, Hamas-led Palestinian militants launched a multi-pronged invasion of southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. The surprise attack comprised a barrage of rockets, while around 3,000 militants breached the Gaza–Israel barrier and attacked Israeli military bases and civilian population centres, as well as a music festival near Re’im. Civilians were deliberately targeted, and more than 800 were killed, along with over 200 soldiers, during the attacks and counterattacks and an estimated 240 Israeli and foreign nationals were taken as captives or hostages to the Gaza Strip.

Despite Israel being a pro- peace country with its neighbors, we had to retaliate as any country would. We are now in a sticky situation and I personally hope that peace wins over the on-going war.

Capital: Finally, Can it be said that Israel has received the support it needs from Ethiopia?

Aleleign Admasu: We know and understand the Ethiopian situation. We know governments can be pressured and the country is also bouncing back from its own civil war. What we appreciate the most is the continued amicable relations, which I believe do stand the test of time.

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