Hundreds of Ethiopian immigrants on Thursday arrived to a festive ceremony at Israel’s international airport, as the government took a step toward carrying out its pledge to reunite hundreds of families split between the two countries.
Some 300 people landed on the Ethiopian Airlines flight, with many waving flags or stopping to kiss the ground as they streamed off the aircraft onto a red carpet. Many were dressed in traditional Ethiopian robes, and many women held babies in their arms.
A large delegation of Israeli officials welcomed the group, and Pnina Tamano-Shata, the country’s first Ethiopian-born Cabinet minister, traveled to Ethiopia to join them on the flight.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the welcoming ceremony at the airport:” Dear brothers and sisters of ours, immigrants from Ethiopia, we are so moved to welcome you here. Welcome to Israel.
“You arrived on a direct flight from Gondar – parents and children. I saw your photos in which you hold photos of your loved ones here in Israel, whom you are hoping to see – and now comes this wonderful family reunion. You waited so long to realize the dream and today it is being realized.
“In the contacts that I am holding, together with the national security staff, with the Sudanese government, contacts on normalization and peace, I have sought to allow the family members to go to the sites in Sudan where their loved ones perished. We are moving forward on this.
“At the same time, I sent Deputy Public Security Minister Desta Yevarken to Africa to advance these issues and others, as well as the return of our dear Avra Mengistu. We will not stop until we bring back home Avra and all the captives and missing.”
The 316 immigrants who arrived Thursday are the first to come to Israel out of the approximately 2,000 future immigrants who will come here by the end of January 2021 as part of the government plan that Netanyahu submitted last October.
Community activists have accused the government of dragging its feet in implementing a 2015 decision to bring all remaining Ethiopians of Jewish lineage to Israel within five years. The Likud party repeated that pledge before national elections early this year.
The Struggle for Ethiopian Aliyah, an activist group promoting family unification, estimates some 7,000 Ethiopian Jews remain behind in Ethiopia, some of whom have been waiting for years to join their families.