Photo Credit: Kobi Richter/TPS
Olim from Ethiopia arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport. Nov. 29, 2020

Operation Tzur Israel to bring Jews from Ethiopia to Israel took off on Sunday, another historic phase in the sprawling saga to bring Ethiopian Jewry home to the state of Israel.

A delegation led by Israeli Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, including representatives of the Jewish Agency, left on Saturday night for Jewish communities awaiting to make Aliyah (immigration) in Addis Ababa and Gondar.

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“Always happy and excited to return to the country where I was born. Greetings and peace to the Ethiopian people,” Tamano-Shata tweeted upon her arrival in the country.

The delegation will return to Israel on Thursday with the first group of about 500 immigrants on two planes leased by the Jewish Agency.

Some 2,000 members of the Falash Mura community will arrive in the Jewish state by February 2021.

The operation is taking place against the background of the tense security situation and the warfare in Ethiopia.

Chairman of the Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog said that Israel “looks forward to welcoming thousands of immigrants who will be reunited with their families after many years.”

“The State of Israel must act to end the painful saga that has lasted for generations,” he added.

Falash Mura are members of the Beta Israel Jewish community in Ethiopia who converted to Christianity during the 19th and 20th centuries. Some were forced to do so. Some have since returned to Judaism.

Former Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef declared in 2002 that the Falash Mura had converted out of fear and persecution and therefore should be considered Jews.

In November 2015, the Israeli government passed a decision to allow family reunifications for the remaining 9,000 Falash Mura community members waiting for Aliyah to Israel.

By the end of 2017, about 1,300 had been approved and immigrated. In October 2018, the government decided to bring another 1,000 members of the community who already had close relatives living in Israel.

After Operation Tsur Israel, 7,000 people remain waiting for Aliyah.

Since the early 1950s, the Jewish Agency has assisted more than 90,000 Ethiopians with their immigration to Israel. The two most famous airlifts from Ethiopia to Israel were Operation Moshe in 1984-1985, aiding the arrival of 6,364 Olim, and Operation Shlomo in 1991, bringing 14,000 immigrants.

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.