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Ethiopian Israelis return to homeland to fight in civil war

i24NEWS met Ayisheshim’s sons, Tamir and David, who told us how their father couldn’t ignore what was happening in his birthplace. So he returned to Ethiopia and joined the Fano militia, which was battling government forces.

Ayisheshim had served in the Israeli army and was a career police officer. His training and experience set him apart, and he quickly rose through the militia ranks, eventually leading over 1,000 Fano militiamen.

The conflict gets little press in the West: Ethiopia has been in a state of civil war since 2018, and this month the government attempted to disarm the Fano militia—their former ally—reigniting the conflict in Amhara.

For many Israelis, this faraway conflict is too close to home.

“It was very important to him, even more than his children or his family,” Tamir told i24NEWS about his father. “It was his homeland. He still had family in Ethiopia, and they had a military background. They had always fought for their homeland and to do good.”

There are approximately 165,000 Ethiopians in Israel; most of them have lived here for decades. But that doesn’t mean their hearts—or families—are undivided between their former and current homes—especially when the news from their relatives is so grim.

Tamir recounted some of what his relatives told him. “They say the situation is not good. The government is just killing people, innocent people. Women, the elderly. My family feels that they’re in danger. They feel there is no one to stop the government, no one is in control.”

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Those calls are what led Ayisheshim, and others like him, to leave his wife and children and travel an active war zone—torn between the family he built, safe in Israel’s center—and the family he came from, exposed to war.

David told us that his father felt that with no state agency stepping in, he needed to protect the family he had left himself.

The Israeli government has conducted limited rescue missions so far. In August, it flew about 200 Israeli citizens and Jews out of Ethiopia, but has ruled out any further missions, as the state looks to address just who counts as Jewish—and therefore qualifies for immigration.

But to many Ethiopians, it’s not a matter of policy, and rather reflects a lack of interest from the rest of the world on the war that shattered their lives.

“I want the whole world to know what’s going on over there. They are just killing people, murdering like it’s nothing, and the world is silent,” David tells us.

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“There’s nothing at all in the media,” Tamir adds. “Compare that to other wars like Ukraine where there’s wall to wall coverage. But on Ethiopia, there is barely a word.”

In part, that’s been due to a digital blackout: Ethiopia’s government has shut down the internet multiple times over the course of the conflict, and still maintains heavy controls over social media. But in the local community in Israel, there is bitter anger that the conflict is being ignored as ‘just another African war.’

“No one over there right now is a saint, but my father went there to show another way in this conflict. It’s a very primitive world there, it’s not like Europeans—they have a very different mindset. He believed he could go and change that. That you could negotiate a way out. I know this was what he wanted because he was a man of peace and unity.

It is impossible to say how many men like Ayisheshim are out there now—there is obviously no registry, and word of mouth is the only exposure they get.

But for the families they leave behind, they have a message: their loved ones fought and died for a cause they believed in—a cause that is closer to Israel than most.

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