A cargo plane from Israel, reportedly loaded with the makings of a complete refugee camp for 8,000 persons, landed here today, and its contents were turned over to the Ethiopian government as a gift of Jewish people from around the world.
The gift was presented to Ethiopia this morning by Abie Nathan, a maverick Israeli peace campaigner, who said the $300,000 cost was met by private contributions raised from Jews in Israel, the United States, Europe and Australia.
"What we tried to do was to make a special Jewish effort without any government, without involvements of any politics whatsoever," Nathan told reporters at Addis Ababa's airport.
He said he had "brought equipment to set up a complete refugee camp, which includes hospital tents, kitchen tent, kitchen equipment, two generators, about 600 or so family tents for 12 people in each tent and mattresses and cots."
He said that the camp would be erected within 10 days and that if it proves useful to victims of Ethiopia's famine, his four-week-old organization -- the Fund for the Children of Ethiopia -- will build four more of the same size.
Nathan arrived this morning with five Israeli technicians, who are to supervise erection of the camp, and Dr. Jakov Adler, an Israeli physician who specializes in refugee medicine.
Nathan, 57, a former Israeli fighter pilot, has been involved in a variety of humanitarian activities as well as attention-grabbing exploits in the past. In 1966 he flew a plane to Egypt on a private peacemaking mission, and was expelled by Egypt and jailed by Israel. He flew relief supplies into secessionist Biafra in 1969, raised money to assist needy in India, Bangladesh and Central America, and for several years has operated a pirate Voice of Peace radio station from a freighter in the Mediterranean.
"For 4,000 years . . . from the time of King Solomon, the Jewish people and the people of Ethiopia are related," Nathan said. There are about 10,000 black Jews in Ethiopia who trace their lineage to the union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. In recent years, about 15,000 Ethiopian Jews have left the country, 8,000 for Israel and 7,000 to Sudan.
Before 1973, Israel provided Ethiopia with development aid, helped train its security force and gave scholarships to Ethiopian students. The relationship ended abruptly after the outbreak of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when, under pressure from Arab countries, Ethiopia broke off diplomatic ties with Israel.
Asked if the gift that arrived today might provide an opening for closer Ethiopian-Israeli relations, Dawit Wolde Giorgis, head of the government's Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, said the donation had nothing to do with the two governments.
"It is not from a country, it is from Jewish people," Dawit said. "We are interested in Mr. Abie Nathan as an individual fundraiser."
Dawit said the donated camp would be erected at Bati, a severely overcrowded feeding center for 16,000 famine victims about 200 miles north of Addis Ababa. It has had a death rate of nearly 100 a day -- the highest in Ethiopia.
Nathan told reporters today that "when I saw the pictures on television of Ethiopia, I came here to see firsthand what was needed."
According to a U.S. diplomatic source here, Nathan arrived unannounced in Addis Ababa in early November with a $10,000 check for the government's relief effort. It took Nathan three or four days before he found the proper person to give the money to, the source said.
After linking up with the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, Nathan said he toured three feeding camps and "went immediately to New York and started the campaign. People immediately gave money."
Meanwhile, members of a visiting Canadian delegation said today that their government has begun an inquiry into press reports that Canadian food aid was being smuggled out of Ethiopia and sold in Kassala, Sudan.
"We certainly have made inquiries and there are active investigations going on right now," said David S. MacDonald, head of the delegation and Canada's emergency coordinator for relief in Africa. He said that after a four-day visit he has found "no documentation" that Canadian grain has been sold on the black market.
According to a story Dec. 1 in The Spectator, a British magazine, Canadian wheat, along with powdered milk provided by the United States, West Germany and the European Community, recently was transported through Girmaica, a town in Ethiopia's northern province of Eritrea, and sold by merchants in Sudan. The story valued the food aid at more than $100,000.
While MacDonald emphasized that he had found no evidence to support the story, he said he has concluded that "some more work has got to be done in areas of monitoring."
The Ethiopian government today called the reports of misappropriated food aid "ridiculous."
"It is only a continuation of a campaign by those people who oppose us and try to smear our name," said Tafari Wossen, a government spokesman. He was referring to rebels in Eritrea who have been fighting the Ethiopian government for 22 years.
Tafari said that the Ethiopian government commonly reuses donors' grain bags for commercial grain, especially Canadian bags. "The Canadian bag is a tough bag," he said.
David A. Korn, the U.S. charge d'affaires here, said there has been no suggestion of misuse of U.S. food donations, which so far have been distributed through private organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, World Vision and the Lutheran World Federation.