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New wave of Ethiopian immigrants lands in Israel

Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO

A flight carrying 316 members of Ethiopia’s Falash Mura Jewish community landed at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on Thursday morning as the opening of “Operation Rock of Israel,” a plan to bring 2,000 members of Ethiopia’s Falash Mura Jewish community to the Holy Land in the coming months, got underway.

Aliyah Minister Pnina Tamano–Shata, who made aliyah (immigration to Israel) from Ethiopia herself as a young child, was on the flight, which was greeted at the airport by a large delegation of senior officials led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog and others.

Another flight carrying the next 100 new immigrants from Ethiopia is scheduled to arrive on Friday morning. All of the new arrivals will be required to stay in quarantine for several days in order to make sure that they are not infected with COVID-19. Following this, they will be sent to absorption centers and some of them will also be given an opportunity to reunite with relatives who have come to Israel before them, in some cases many years ago.

Although leaders of Israel’s Falash Mura community welcomed the new arrivals, they also expressed deep concerns about the plight of approximately 5,400 others who remain in Ethiopia, including many living in very difficult conditions in refugee camps in Addis Ababa and Gondor. Netanyahu promised ahead of the last round of elections that all remaining Ethiopian Jews would be brought to the Jewish state by the end of 2020, but only 2,500 have made it due to various reasons, from bureaucracy to logistical issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as sometimes intense political opposition from different groups in Israel.

Such opposition is nothing new in Israel, as the Israeli government has long dragged its feet in implementing measures to encourage immigration of the Falash Mura community of Jews from Ethiopia. Many promises have been made over the years, since the first big airlift, dubbed “Operation Solomon” brought the first wave of such immigrants in May of 1991.

Leaders on hand at Thursday’s ceremony to greet the new arrivals made sure to address this issue.

“I promised them we would not turn our backs on them and abandon them to their fate, and I am optimistic. We need to solve this painful story which has gone on for too long,” Pnina Tamano–Shata said.

Knesset Member Michal Cotler-Wunsh, chair of the Ethiopians in Israel Knesset Caucus, added during his own remarks that it was “a great honor and responsibility to welcome the daughters and sons who have waited for years to be reunited with their parents” while reminding her colleagues that Israel has “a duty to implement and expedite the decision to bring all those waiting in Ethiopia to Israel, particularly in the face of an evolving humanitarian crisis that includes malnutrition and danger.”

Netanyahu, for his part, brought his wife Sara to the event and declared during his remarks that "I do not remember, for many years, when I have been moved so much at a sight of such refined Zionism that expresses all of its significance. My wife Sara and I stood here with tears in our eyes at the welcoming, when we saw the immigrants, our Jewish brothers and sisters from Ethiopia leave the plane with baskets – like we remember, like I remember from my childhood – they come down and touch the ground, the land of Israel…this is the essence of the Zionist story.”

The airlift was organized by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency with financial support from the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) and other allied organizations.

The ICEJ has sponsored the aliyah of over 2,200 Ethiopian Jews since 2015, adding to the tens of thousands it has assisted since 1980.

“We are thrilled to see these latest arrivals from the ancient Ethiopian Jewish community finally standing in the Land of Israel,” said ICEJ President Jürgen Bühler. “This airlift operation comes at a critical moment due to the worsening conditions facing those still living in the transit camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa, and we welcome the Israeli government’s decision to bring them speedily home to Israel. It is a privilege for the ICEJ to support this historic and humanitarian effort to reunite Ethiopian families and fulfill the dreams of many generations to reach the Jewish homeland.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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