Honorable Kesim and Leaders of the Ethiopian community in Israel,
Bereaved families,
Minister of Immigrant Absorption,
Chairman of the Jewish Agency,
Distinguished guests,

The memorial being inaugurated today, at the National Commemoration Site [Mount Herzl], is a token of honor and respect for the sacred memory of the thousands of brave immigrants, our sisters and brothers from "Beta Israel" who secretly set out on paths beset with obstacles and dangers and died along the way, with the vow of Jerusalem in their hearts: "If I forget thee."

The immigration of so many Jews from Ethiopia to the State of Israel is a magnificent chapter – one overflowing with love, sacrifice and tears – in the epic story of the ingathering of the exiles, which has no equal in the history of nations on the planet.

For thousands of years, isolated and apart from all the other scattered groups of the people of Israel, living under cruelly oppressive regimes, persecuted and subject to harsh decrees, the Jews of Ethiopia succeeded – even in martyrdom – in maintaining their identity, their uniqueness, their heritage and their faith.

For generation after generation the Jews in the east of the black continent raised their faces in prayer, in the heart of a hostile and conspiring environment, and yearned for redemption which tarried in coming.

Only 30 years ago, towards the end of the 1970’s, was there a more significant flow of immigrants streaming from Ethiopia on hidden paths. Mossad agents, air support teams and Naval ships from the State of Israel acted covertly in godforsaken locations, at distant and dangerous sites and beaches, in order to extract the olim and bring them to Israel. They carried out this rescue work with love, dedication and self-sacrifice, and it is proper that they receive praise.

The word of the immigration spread among the Jews of Ethiopia with the speed of a brushfire.  The yearning of generations burst forth like the sea from the depths of hearts, and no obstacle could overcome it. Families and individuals embarked on their journey of redemption, carrying only a meager bundle, exposed to the fiery heat of the desert, to the injuries on the crumbling path, to robbers and murderers, to hunger and thirst and predators.

Thousands fell dead in the ditches along the journey – women, men and small children – but the drive to push onwards did not fade and the rush did not stop.  Imbued with the vision of salvation, loyalty and love for Zion, the immigrants were stronger than any fear, braver than any danger, and they were finally rewarded. The paths of courage ended in the large-scale immigration operations, "Operation Moses" [1984] and "Operation Solomon" [1991].

Even today, the story of the redemption of :Beta Israel" has not ended, even as they are already a natural and inseparable part of the human and cultural landscape and beauty of the State of Israel.

It is proper also to mention the leaders of the State of Israel who, at the time, made the primary and decisive decisions, under extremely complex political conditions, while taking risks and bearing huge costs, in order to bring the Ethiopian olim to their homeland. The late Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, whose passing 15 years ago we recently marked, and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, may he live a long life, deserve special mention at this distinguished, official ceremony. Their contribution to the redemption of the Jews of Ethiopia will not be forgotten.

Distinguished guests,

Leaving Ethiopia is a miracle brought about by heroes, those who died along the way, whose memory and sacrifice we are here today to extol. Many of the Ethiopian olim carry in their souls the weight of the pain of bereavement, orphanhood and sorrow over the deaths of their loved ones on the remote paths of the desert.

I can do nothing more than to extend an embracing hand and say with a heavy heart that the history of Zionism has proven again and again the truth of the words uttered by our sages of blessed memory: "The Land of Israel is acquired through suffering." Most waves of immigration to Israel involved, at some level, sacrifice and suffering, through blood and tears.

I know very well that the Promised Land did not welcome the olim. At the end of an arduous journey, tormented by suffering, the olim did not find rest and solace. It was not a rose garden. This too is a familiar Zionist story, which immigrants from other countries also experienced. The bruises from absorption are no easier than the agony of uprooting and immigrating.

The State of Israel did invest great efforts and means in absorbing the Ethiopian immigrants, and I promise that it will continue to invest where it is needed; however, Israeli society has long been known for loving aliyah, but does not always warmly welcome olim.

Experience teaches us that it is especially difficult when there are significant differences between the new immigrants and the absorbing society with regard to culture and leadership, in codes of social and family behavior, in appearance and lifestyle. 

Quite a few past waves of immigration to Israel with similar backgrounds also suffered alienation, discrimination and prejudice. However, in the long-term, the Israeli melting pot has proven itself. The younger generation of immigrants soon understands the vibrant Israeli existence, and integrates into it through the education system, the molding experience of service in the IDF, the labor market and through direct contact with people of their own age.

Eventually, the walls crumble, and what is left is a Jewish and Israeli socio-cultural mosaic which is fascinating, diverse, rich and captivating.

I am surprised anew each time I see IDF officers, students, professionals and academics, children of Ethiopian immigrants. Even if the arduous journey is not yet over – the community of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel can look back with pride on the courageous chapter written in the history of realizing the Zionist dream, and look forward with confidence to the glorious future of their sons and daughters in the State of Israel. The legacy of the valor, majesty and inestimable sacrifice of the Ethiopian olim today receives the recognition, official commemoration and Memorial at Mount Herzl.

On behalf of the Government of Israel, on behalf of the State to which the Jews of Ethiopia valorously immigrated, and for which so many of them lost their lives, I bow my head in memory of those who died – with respect, honor and in humility.

May their memories be blessed and forever tied to Israel.