Over 400 Ethiopian Jews are arriving in Israel on Thursday and Friday in the first stage of “Operation Rock of Israel” (Tzur Israel in Hebrew), a special airlift being carried out by the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) as conditions in Ethiopia have given new urgency to bringing home the last remnant of this ancient religious community. The airlift is being supported by a number of JAFI’s partner organizations, including the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which is supporting the Aliyah of some 100 new immigrants arriving on Friday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials were on hand this morning to greet the first flight of 316 Ethiopian newcomers, who were accompanied by Aliyah Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, an Ethiopian immigrant (olim) to Israel herself at age three some four decades ago. A second flight is scheduled to land at Ben Gurion Airport on Friday with an additional 100 Ethiopian immigrants, all part of an effort to bring a total of 2,000 Ethiopian olim by the end of January 2021.

The Israeli cabinet decided in 2015 to bring home the remnant of Ethiopian Jewry, consisting of some 9,000 ‘Falash Mura’ who have been living in poor conditions in transit camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa, some waiting there for up to 20 years to make Aliyah. The Christian Embassy has sponsored Aliyah flights for over 2,200 Ethiopian Jews who have arrived in Israel since then, but the immigration process has been slow and the challenges to the well-being of those left behind are mounting.

There are now approximately 8,000 members of the Falash Mura community remaining in Ethiopia, and Aliyah Minister Tamano-Shata, together with Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, are spearheading the effort to bring those eligible for entry to Israel over the next couple years.

Ethiopia has been suffering under a prolonged drought, while a massive plague of locust also has hit East Africa this year. As a result, food supplies are running short and prices are spiraling upward. Many Jews in the transit camps are malnourished, especially children. And Ethiopia is now facing the spread of coronavirus. Add to this the armed rebellion which erupted early last month in the breakaway province of Tigray, just 45 miles across the border from the Gondar transit camps, and the situation has become quite worrisome, particularly for their relatives already living in Israel.

“We are thrilled to see these latest arrivals from the ancient Ethiopian Jewish community finally standing in the Land of Israel,” said ICEJ President Dr. 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.”