Black Hebrews

   The name applied to a community of African Americans who arrived in Israel in the late 1960s and early 1970s claiming to be the "rightful inheritors of Jerusalem and the Holy Land" and who have remained in the country illegally ever since. Founded in the black ghettos of Chicago in the early 1960s, its members claimed to be the "true descendants" of Abraham and the Biblical Israelites; they rejected the legitimacy of the state of Israel and predicted that "by 1977, the lands and the institutions now being controlled by the illegal government occupying that land [Israel] will be in the hands of Black people from America, with the authority of the Original African Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem."
   The first group of 39 black Hebrews arrived in Israel via Liberia on 21 December 1969. They asked to be granted immediate immigrant (see ALIYA) status under the Law of Return. Befuddled Israeli immigration officials deferred responding to this request until the religious status of the group's members could be clarified; in the meantime, they were granted tourist visas; were settled in the Negev development town of Dimona; and given assistance in obtaining housing, employment, Hebrew language instruction, and other support usually provided to new immigrants. Shortly thereafter, other black Hebrews arrived in two groups and joined their colleagues in Dimona. In due course, Israeli rabbinical authorities determined that the black Hebrews were not Jewish and the Interior Ministry began expulsion proceedings against those who had either entered the country illegally or whose tourist visas had expired. On appeal, an Israeli court ruled that because the black Hebrews were not Jewish, they could not benefit from the Law of Return and that the Interior Ministry was acting legally in ordering the deportation of those who were living in the country illegally.
   Despite this ruling, successive Israeli governments continued to avoid deporting the group's members, seemingly fearful of eliciting charges of racism and of provoking tensions between American Jewish and black communities. In the meantime, the black Hebrew community in Israel grew to some 3,000 members, most of whom lived in squalid conditions in Dimona, Arad, and Mitzpeh Ramon. In July 2003, Israel granted permanent resident status to the black Hebrews.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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