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New Media in the Life of the Ethiopian Immigrants

In light of the ongoing marginalization of Ethiopian Jews, we conducted a first-of-its-kind study exploring the role information and communication technologies (ICTs) may play in bettering their lives. Moreover, we were interested in exploring whether ICTs were seen as a tool for providing voice to a community that seems to be systematically unheard. This study was conducted in 2015 and focused on the perceptions of utilization of ICTs by Ethiopian immigrant activists whose efforts focus on the advancement of social issues they deem important to their lives. Hence, we appropriated Couldry's (2010) concept of voice as a fundamental capability.

The questions focused on their perception of the change ICTs may have on the immigrants’ struggle, thus applying a refomulation of the “digital divide” in line with Mansell’s (2002) plight. The assumption was that through their hypothetical insights regarding ICTs and their utility, we could learn about the meaning of ICTs for users in positions of uttermost disadvantage among Israeli Jews and what they need in order to make these ICTs improve their condition. Interviews were held with 25 Ethiopian immigrant-activists residing in 16 absorption centers serving 4000 Ethiopian immigrants, mostly those who have immigrated in the past decade, and the majority of which belong to the Falash Mura.

According to the Web site of the Ministry of Absorption, immigrants can stay in the absorption center for a maximum period of twenty-four months, during which time they are to complete the process of converting to Judaism and acquire skills needed to integrate into society, including acquiring command of the Hebrew language, obtaining a profession, and gaining knowledge of the bureaucratic system and social services, as well as receiving guidance and safeguarding in the process of purchasing their own housing. Despite this stated policy, many immigrants continue to live in the absorption centers for many years, often reporting humiliating and abusive behavior by the centers’ staff.3 Binhas (2012), who studied the relationship between immigrants who came to Israel on Operation Solomon, the government, and the Jewish Agency, focusing on the role of the Agency in housing, found that the Agency’s involvement had in fact hurt the immigrants, extended their stay in the absorption centers, and slowed down their integration into Israeli society.

The group studied is a mostly homogeneous group consisting of men twenty-five to forty-five years old who have been residing in Israel between two and ten years, mostly single or divorced in the first years after immigrating. Most members of the group are Amharic literate, and some acquired a high school education in Ethiopia; however, they all have limited command of Hebrew.4 The interviewees operate as a group whose goal, as they described it to us, is “to find housing solutions for old and young single men and to fight against the conditions and harassment of the absorption agents who utilize for this matter oppressive agencies such as the police and the court enforcement agency.”

Most members of the group have never used a computer. Three of them, however, had a computer, two made advanced use of it, including accessing the Internet, and the third only used it to store photos. Most of them had smartphones, and, as they had testified, they used them for taking pictures, recording and sending messages to other members of the group, and for regular voice communications. While the group met every two to three weeks in Tel Aviv, they held conference calls between the meetings as well as exchanged messages utilizing the WhatsApp application.

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