Three Ethiopian-born sisters lost their Israeli citizenship last spring, and were told they would have to leave the country.

The problem? They believe that Jesus is the Messiah. They are now appealing the decision before Haim Ramon, Israel's acting Minister of the Interior.

The sisters—ages 15, 16, and 18 at the time—arrived in Israel in 1991 during Operation Solomon, which brought a wave of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants to Israel. The girls' parents were both Christians, and they arrived in Israel with their Jewish stepfather, who had adopted them. The stepfather has since died.

Ethiopia recognized the adoption, but Israel did not since the Jewish stepfather failed to go through official adoption procedures. Even so, the young women were recognized as immigrants, and later as citizens.

All the while, says their lawyer Nadav Haber, "They never declared that they were Jews." The sisters integrated into Israeli society, learned Hebrew, and studied at the University of Haifa. They kept Jewish feasts and Sabbaths while believing that Jesus is the Messiah.

Their status as Israeli women might have continued without interruption if the Ministry of the Interior had not spotted them as he reviewed a video of an Ethiopian choir performing at a Messianic Jewish event early in 1998.

Haber has discovered, to the women's dismay, that Ethiopia does not issue visas to individuals who have given up their citizenship. If the sisters could travel to Ethiopia on Israeli passports, however, they could request Ethiopian citizenship.

The sisters now have no legal status in Israel, Haber says. But he does not believe they will be deported.

The sisters do not want to be mentioned by name for fear of losing their jobs. This could happen, they say, if their ...

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