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First immigrants from Ethiopia in Operation Rock of Israel land

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The first flight of Operation Rock of Israel brought 316 members of the Falash Mura community from Ethiopia to Israel early on Thursday together with Aliyah Minister Pnina Tamano Shata and they were greeted at Ben Gurion Airport by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog and other dignitaries.About 100 more Falash Mura community immigrants will arrive on Friday as part of a plan to airlift some 2,000 of the group by the end of January 2021.Activists supporting Falash Mura immigration have, however, condemned Netanyahu and the government because more than 7,000 of the community remain in Addis Ababa and Gondar despite his promises before the last election that all those waiting would be brought to Israel by the end this year.Those arriving on Thursday are the children or grandchildren of members of the community who immigrated here many years ago.Tamano Shata has spearheaded efforts to bring the remaining Falash Mura members from Ethiopia to Israel and spent the last week there together with ministry and Jewish Agency officials to coordinate the arrival of the 2,000 immigrants who were authorized in October to make aliyah.A 2015 government decision said that all the members of the community should be brought to Israel by the end of this year but political opposition and bureaucratic problems have facilitated the arrival of only 2,500.Another 5,340 Falash Mura community members have claimed immigration rights since 2010 with the backing of the Ethiopian Jewish leadership in Israel as well as prominent, mainstream rabbis from the religious-Zionist community and a decision whether they will be deemed eligible for immigration to Israel will be made within the framework of a comprehensive plan for the remaining members of the Falash Mura community that Tamano Shata is currently drawing up.

The new arrivals flew in from Gondar and descended the steps of their plane to be greeted by Netanyahu, Gantz and other members of the government, before filing off to a coronavirus quarantine center.When their isolation period ends, they will be moved to various immigrant absorption centers throughout the country and will be able to reunite with family members whom they have not seen for many years.Tamano Shata said at the arrival ceremony that “Operation Rock of Israel” was one of the most important achievements of the current government, but she lamented that many more of the community remain in Ethiopia.“They are waiting not only to fulfill their dream of coming to Israel and Jerusalem, but to meet their basic request of reuniting with their families here in Israel,” she said, adding that it had been “extremely difficult” to see them living with malnutrition and poverty.The circumstances for those still waiting to immigrate have worsened recently due to economic problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.“This is a moment that transcends the controversies and debates, a moment of saving lives, and most important, a moment of national duty that reminds us who we are as a people and that we are privileged to return home after thousands of years of exile,” said Tamano Shata.Netanyahu said in his remarks that he had not been as moved by “such a pure scene of Zionism,” for many years and that he and his wife, Sara, who was also present, cried as they greeted the new immigrants.“You have waited a long time to realize this dream, and today it is coming true,” said Netanyahu.He added that in negotiations for the normalization of relations with Sudan, which the government is currently pursuing, he has asked that families of those from the Ethiopian Jewish community who died during Operation Moses in 1984 on their way to be airlifted from Sudan to Ethiopia, be allowed access to their burial sites.Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said it had been “incredibly moving,” to witness the arrival of the new immigrants, noting that families in Ethiopia and Israel “have been pleading and praying to rejoin their loved ones” for years.MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Blue and White), chair of the Ethiopians in Israel Knesset Caucus, who was also present, said it was “a great honor and responsibility to welcome the daughters and sons who have waited for years to be reunited with their parents,” but added that the country had “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.”Tadale Biadne, a member of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, was waiting to welcome his brother off the plane.  Although Biadne, his mother, and five of her siblings came to Israel in 2010, his brother was not allowed to immigrate and has not seen his mother for a decade.Biadne said he was very excited to finally be reunited and that his mother was anxious to see her son. “Something great has happened here today,” he said.Activists supporting the immigration of the Falash Mura community expressed anger at the continual failure to bring all those remaining in Ethiopia to Israel, despite repeated promises to do so.“Once again, the government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided to place quotas on the immigration of Jews from Ethiopia, violating its election promises and its own government resolution from 2015, which pledged to bring all the remaining Jews of Ethiopia to Israel by the end of 2020,” said Muket Fenta of the Activists for Ethiopian Aliya organization.“The government is celebrating a few hundred immigrants from Ethiopia, while thousands were supposed to be here and are still left behind with their fate in question, despite all prior commitments from the prime minister,” he continued.Fenta noted that his aunt is one of those who remains in Ethiopia while her entire family including eight siblings and mother are living in Israel.



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