Two flights carrying 600 new immigrants from France landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday and were greeted by dignitaries including President Shimon Peres, Immigrant Absorption Minister Ya'acov Edri and Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski, as well as hundreds of French olim who have already made their homes in Israel.
The flights, which mark the largest aliya operation this year, and the largest from France in several decades, were organized by the Jewish Agency and the francophone aliya organization Ami. An additional 3,000 French immigrants are expected to arrive in Israel before the end of 2007.
The new arrivals will be part of a recent surge of aliya from France, with some 4,000 French Jews moving to the Jewish state in the past 18 months.
The general strike declared Tuesday night by the Histadrut Labor Federation raised concerns that the flights might not be able to land in Israel. But the delay in the airport strike by 24 hours provided the window of opportunity needed for the new Israelis to arrive.
Earlier in the day, in a letter to Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini, Bielski wrote that "since the founding of the state, aliya was never stopped, not even for one day, for any reason, even war." Discussions between Jewish Agency and Histadrut officials, partly facilitated by Peres, allowed the flights to arrive as planned.
The immigrants will travel in groups to Jerusalem, Netanya, Ashdod, Ashkelon and the Binyamin Regional Council. As part of the Group Aliya program, they will make their first homes in Israel alongside fellow olim from the same flight. The program is meant to help in their acclimation, and French-speaking project managers will be on hand in their new neighborhoods to see them through the absorption process. The program also includes extra financial assistance, housing, Hebrew-study and employment assistance, beyond what is provided in the standard absorption package.
The largest number of French olim, nearly 7,500 since 1989, reside in Jerusalem. Next in line come Netanya with 4,900, Ashdod with 4,200 and Tel Aviv with 2,000.
Greer Faye Cashman contributed to this report.