A planeload of 240 Ethiopian immigrants, half of them children, landed in Israel on Monday, in an inaugural flight commencing Israel’s initiative to bring all remaining Falash Mora to the country, the Jewish Agency announced.

The effort to airlift the Falash Mura — Ethiopian Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity or abandoned Jewish customs in the 19th and 20th centuries — was dubbed “Operation Dove’s Wings.”

The Jewish Agency aims to bring all eligible Ethiopians to Israel by October 2013. Approximately 2,000 additional Falash Mura await immigration to Israel in Gondar, Ethiopia. The Jewish Agency and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews run a center for the prospective immigrants, where they receive humanitarian assistance and a range of social services that prepare them for life in Israel.

Jewish communities worldwide and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews raised NIS 12 million for the operation, and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry invested an additional NIS 5.5 million.

On arrival in Israel, the immigrants will be housed in 16 government-run absorption centers across the country. The Ibim Absorption Center in the Negev Desert, reopened especially for the operation, will accommodate over 600 immigrants.

The government did not initially bring Falash Mura Jews to Israel during airlift operations in the 1980s and 1990s, in large part because of uncertainty as to whether they were halachically Jewish and therefore entitled to automatic citizenship under the Law of Return. But the Falash Mura arrived at the camps set up for the Ethiopian Jews and demanded to be brought to Israel in light of their Jewish heritage. They waited in the Jewish Agency camps in Addis Ababa for over 10 years until the Israeli government at last acquiesced in 2003 and began bringing them to Israel.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky termed the airlift “a miracle.”

“Together we are writing the last page of the history of Ethiopian Jewry. We are now bringing all of our brothers from Africa to Israel,” Sharansky said, attributing the operation’s success to “the State of Israel, world Jewry and our Christian allies.”