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The Beta Israel lived in northern and northwestern Ethiopia, in more than 500 small villages spread over a wide territory, alongside populations that were Muslim and predominantly Christian.

Most of them were concentrated mainly on what are today, North Gondar Zone, Shire Inda Selassie, Wolqayit, Tselemti, Dembia, Segelt, Quara, and Belesa. They practiced Haymanot religious practices, which are generally recognized as an Israelite religion that differs from Rabbinic Judaism. Beta Israel appear to have been isolated from mainstream Jewish communities for at least a millennium. They suffered religious persecution and significant portion of the community were forced into Christianity during the 19th and 20th centuries; those converted became know as the Falash Mura.

The larger Beta Abraham Christian community with pseudo-Israelite practices is also considered having historical links to Beta Israel.

The Beta Israel made contact with other Jewish communities in the later 20th century. Following this, a rabbinic debate ensued over whether or not the Beta Israel were Jews. After halakhic (Jewish law) and constitutional discussions, Israeli officials decided, in 1977, that the Israeli Law of Return was to be applied to the Beta Israel.

The Israeli and American governmentsmounted aliyah (immigration to Israel) transport operations. These activities included Operation Brothers in Sudan between 1979 and 1990 (this includes the major operations Moses and Joshua), and in the 1990s from Addis Ababa (which includes Operation Solomon).

By the end of 2008, there were 119,300 people of Ethiopian descent in Israel, including nearly 81,000 people born in Ethiopia and about 38,500 native-born Israelis (about 32 percent of the community) with at least one parent born in Ethiopia or Eritrea. The Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel is mostly composed of Beta Israel (practicing both Haymanot and Rabbinic Judaism) and to a smaller extent of Falash Mura who converted from Christianity to Rabbinic Judaism upon their arrival to Israel.

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