A plane carrying 330 Ethiopian immigrants landed in Tel Aviv on Friday, February 11. The passengers also included 86 children one of whom needed emergency heart surgery.

The newcomers were taken for a 14-day quarantine period but the 6-year-old patient was quickly moved to a local hospital. 

The Ben Gurion Airport has remained closed since January 26 as part of the country’s travel restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus variants. However, it was opened briefly to welcome the immigrants. The airport is set to remain closed until at least February 20.

All the new arrivals tested negative for COVID before leaving Ethiopia and will now comply with Israel‘s mandatory quarantine procedures. They will be housed in dedicated facilities run by the Aliyah and Integration Ministry and the Jewish Agency for Israel, in coordination with the IDF Home Front Command.

Friday‘s flight was the seventh to arrive in Israel as part of an operation initiated by Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata. Tamano-Shata is herself an Ethiopian-born immigrant brought to Israel in a clandestine airlift in 1984. She was particularly excited by the arrival of the latest batch of immigrants. 

“Every aliyah from Ethiopia is exciting and special, but this time the flight is especially moving because it was postponed twice due to the closed skies. The people of Israel should know that even in times of crisis the skies haven’t been hermetically closed to new Olim, that the door is always open to Jews. I hope that the new Olim can celebrate the upcoming Shabbat in Israel, in all its glory”, she said. 

The arrival of immigrants was sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, or ICEJ, an evangelical group that has set out to bring 2,000 Ethiopian-Jewish immigrants to Israel as part of its “Operation Rock of Israel”.  The operation launched in December has so far met a quarter of its quota, and sponsored flights for over 500 new immigrants.

Now their dreams have come true of finally reuniting with their families in the Promised Land,” ICEJ President Jürgen Bühler said in a statement. “We also have many Christians worldwide to thank for making this flight possible.”

The ICEJ has sponsored flights for over 2,700 Ethiopian Jews in total. There are still around 7,500 members of the Jewish community remaining in Ethiopia. Israel has made arrangements to bring all Ethiopian Jews who wish to come to Israel, the right and means to do so over the next couple of years.

Ethiopian Jews were first brought to Israel from refugee camps in Sudan in a series of secret operations in the early 1980s by Israel‘s Mossad intelligence agency on the orders of the then Prime Minister Menachem Begin