Ethiopian immigrants arrive in Israel for first time in seven months

(JTA) – More than 70 new Ethiopian immigrants landed in Israel Tuesday, the first to arrive in more than seven months.

The 72 immigrants identified as Falash Mura, or Ethiopians who claim Jewish heritage, landed on Tuesday as part of a joint operation between the Jewish Agency and the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. They were greeted at Ben-Gurion International Airport by family members, many who had not seen each other in more than a decade, according to reports.

Two more aliyah flights from Ethiopia are scheduled for June, the Times of Israel reported.

Some 9,000 Ethiopian Falash Mura remain in the country awaiting immigration to Israel.

In 2013, Israel’s Interior Ministry approved the immigration of the remaining Falash Mura, and the Knesset in November 2015 unanimously approved a plan to bring some of them over following a public campaign launched by the nation’s Ethiopian community and volunteer organizations. But the plan did not deal with the finances, which include the long-term costs of acclimating the immigrants.

An agreement to find money in the budget for the aliyah of the Falash Mura was signed in April 2016. Some 100 immigrants were supposed to arrive in Israel each month after that, but the process has been more protracted.

The Falash Mura claim links to descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity generations ago but now seek to return to Judaism. The Interior Ministry accepts them as immigrants under the Law of Return, which is less restrictive than traditional Jewish law.

About 135,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent are living in Israel. Some 22,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel during Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Solomon in 1991.

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