On October 3, 1935, Italian forces invade Ethiopia after a border incident in an Italian colony in Somalia. Following the invasion, the League of Nations announces that it will seek sanctions against Italy. The United States, while not a League member, makes known its intentions not to provide economic or military support to either side. The sanctions are not successful in deterring the Italians. The possibility of further sanctions, including closing the Suez Canal to prevent the passage of war materials is deemed too costly to global commerce and other European interests. The incident reinforces the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations, of which Ethiopia is a member, in maintaining peace and its ability to protect member states.
With Italian forces rapidly approaching the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the country’s Emperor Haile Selassie, in power since 1930, flees to the French colony in Djibouti on May 2. With Selassie in exile, the Italians easily capture the capital and on May 9, 1936 declare an annexation of Ethiopia. Selassie spends only two days in Djibouti. He departs for Palestine aboard a British warship on the evening of May 4 following an agreement between the British and French. As part of the agreement, Selassie is restricted from any actions that would prolong the conflict in Ethiopia.
Selassie arrives in Haifa on May 8 and is greeted by a British military salute and several dignitaries including the Mayor of Haifa, the General Manager of Palestine Railways and the British District Officer. After disembarking with his forty-six person entourage from the ship, the Emperor boards a train which takes him to Jerusalem. The train route to Jerusalem is lined with thousands of onlookers. Selassie’s arrival comes one month after the outbreak of hostilities between Jews and Arabs in April 1936 and in the midst of a six-month Arab strike. The Arab Strike Committee grants a special exemption for Arab drivers to transport the Emperor and his entourage from the railway station to the King David Hotel.
While in Jerusalem, Selassie spends time with a community of Abyssinian (Ethiopian) monks, praying with them at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He also contemplates his next steps in trying to restore his kingdom. In a statement delivered to Reuters on May 13 in Jerusalem, Selassie states, “We have been deeply touched by the cordial hospitality shown to us by the British authorities and population in Palestine and for the great interest in the welfare of our unfortunate country shown by the millions of friends around the world, particularly Great Britain…We are determined to pursue the defense of our just cause and to work peacefully for the liberation of our well-beloved country from foreign military dominations. Our eyes have always been toward the League, in which our faith still persists in spite of what has happened.”
After two-weeks in Palestine, Selassie departs first for England and then Geneva where he addresses the League of Nations on June 30, 1936. He closes his remarks by asking, “What are they (League Members) willing to do for Ethiopia? And the great Powers who have promised the guarantee of collective security to small States on whom weighs the threat that they may one day suffer the fate of Ethiopia, I ask what measures do you intend to take? Representatives of the World I have come to Geneva to discharge in your midst the most painful of the duties of the head of a State. What reply shall I have to take back to my people?”
Despite pleading for the League’s help, the League eventually capitulates to Italy and its fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, lifting all the sanctions in July 1936. Italy’s occupation of Ethiopia ends when they are defeated during World War II by the Allies in Africa in 1941. Italy’s defeat is followed by Selassie returning to Addis Ababa and resuming the throne.
Although abstaining in the November 1947 United Nations vote on partition, Ethiopia becomes the second African country to recognize Israel when it does so in 1956. In addition to having shared strategic interests, including the prevention of the spread of Arab and Muslim nationalism, the Emperor has positive memories of his time in Jerusalem. Relations are severed in 1973 following the October 1973 Yom Kippur War and Selassie is overthrown in a military coup in 1974.
The photo shows Selassie arriving in Jerusalem on May 8, 1936. Photo Source: Matson (G. Eric and Edith) Photograph collection at the Library of Congress.