Eighty-one immigrants from the Falash Mura community have touched down in Israel, the first to make aliyah since a controversial Israeli decision to ban further Ethopian immigration.
This is the first flight of the Falash Mura since the Israeli government decided to end Ethiopian immigration in August 2008, with another 63 due to arrive tomorrow.
The ruling was reversed in December 2009 after the Jewish Agency for Israel threw its support for bringing the Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.
The Falash Mura are Ethiopians who claim their Jewish ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity.
Israeli rabbis have ruled that they are of Jewish descent and the initial arrangement with the government allowed them to enter Israel on condition that they re-convert to Judaism, after which they receive citizenship.
The Israeli Interior Ministry and the Jewish Agency have returned to Ethiopia to examine the eligibility of the applicants to live in Israel.
More than 8,000 Falash Mura are still in Ethiopia, many with relatives in Israel.
More than 600 are planned to arrive over the next few months, and up to 2,000 could be in Israel by the end of 2010.
The chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, said: “The Jewish Agency is ready to host the new immigrants and to efficiently provide them with all the necessary services for their initial absorption.
He added: “I hope that the transfer of thousands of Falash Mura to Israel will bring an end to this painful issue.”