Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 159-195

First online:

“One People, One Blood”: Public Health, Political Violence, and HIV in an Ethiopian-Israeli Setting

  • Don SeemanAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology and Anthropology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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Between 1984 and 1996, public health authorities in Israel maintained a secret policy of discarding blood donations made by Ethiopian-Israeli citizens and immigrants. Officials later attempted to justify this policy on the grounds that immigrants from Ethiopia were subject to high rates of infectious disease (especially HIV). In 1996, this led to an explosive and violent confrontation between Ethiopian-Israeli protestors and agents of the state, including police and public health authorities. This essay explores the cultural and political context of that confrontation, including the discourse of political violence which it occasioned. The conflict between Ethiopian-Israelis and the state was located within a wider set of political contexts, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was linked to it through a shared trope of “spilled blood” common to both. Cultural analyses which ignore this dynamic political context are in danger of seriously misrepresenting the meaning of the “Blood Affair” to its participants. At the same time, this essay also engages a critical analysis of the public health policies which led to the crisis. Public health and nationalist discourse reinforced one another at the expense of Ethiopian immigrants in general, and so-called “Feres Mura” Ethiopians in particular.