Ethiopian-born Jews on life in Israel: ‘It was always my dream to come to Jerusalem’

by Selam

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second right, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, right, watch the guard of honor in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Thursday. (Mulugeta Ayene/AP)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic trip to East Africa last week was aimed at boosting relations. But his last stop, in Ethiopia, held special meaning for many of the 135,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin who live in Israel today.

Netanyahu is the first Israeli leader to visit the East African country. Formal ties were established between the two states in 1992.

Most Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel in secret immigration operations that took place in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. In Operation Moses, during the ’80s, roughly 8,000 people were smuggled out of Ethiopia via Sudan and taken to Israel on secret flights organized by the Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service. In Operation Solomon, in 1991, about 14,500 people were airlifted to Israel in less than 36 hours.

More recently, the immigrants have arrived via regular flights almost every month, yet an estimated 9,000 to 20,000 Ethiopian Jews remain in Ethiopia.

Today, about 85,900 Israelis of Ethiopian origin were born in Ethiopia, and 49,600 were born in Israel.

Here are a few of their stories:

Pnina Tamano-Shata, 34

In 2013, Pnina Tamano-Shata made history when she became the first Ethiopian-born woman to join the Israeli parliament.

Pnina Tamano-Shatta, 34, made history in 2013 when she became the first Ethiopian-born female to join the Israeli parliament. (Handout)In 2013, Pnina Tamano-Shata became the first Ethiopian-born woman  in Israel’s parliament. (Courtesy of Tamano-Shata)

Her family made its way to Israel, via Sudan, when she was only 3. After nearly a year in a refugee camp, Israeli agents flew them to Israel in Hercules cargo planes. Tamano-Shata’s mother, however, was mistakenly

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