Indian villagers who claim to be a "Lost tribe of Israel" to return to Jewish homeland after five year legal fight

Indian villagers who claim to be a 'Lost tribe of Israel' to return to Jewish homeland after five year legal fightVillagers from northeastern India will be allowed to settle in IsraelThey claim to be the Bnei Menashe, who were banished from Israel in eight century BCThey were recognised by a Rabbi in 2005 but many Israelis dispute it

PUBLISHED:

21:37 GMT, 26 December 2012

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UPDATED:

21:37 GMT, 26 December 2012

Dozens of Indian Jews who claim to be the descendants of a lost biblical Jewish tribe emigrated to Israel from their village in India on Monday, celebrating their arrival after a five-year struggle to get in.

The Bnei Menashe, from the northeastern part of India, say they are descended from Jews banished from ancient Israel to India in the eighth century B.C.

An Israeli chief rabbi recognised them as one of the 10 'lost tribes' in 2005, and about 1,700 moved to Israel over the next two years before the government stopped giving them visas.

Exodus: The Bnei Menashe were banished from Israel by the Assyrians (pictured)

Exodus: The Bnei Menashe were banished from Israel by the Assyrians (pictured)

The Indians say they maintain many Jewish traditions passed down through the ages

The Indians say they maintain many Jewish traditions passed down through the ages

Israel recently reversed that policy, agreeing to let the remaining 7,200 Bnei Menashe immigrate.

Fifty-three arrived on a flight Monday. Michael Freund, an Israel-based activist on their behalf, said nearly 300 others will arrive in the coming weeks.

'After waiting for thousands of years, our dream came true,' said Lhing Lenchonz, 26, who arrived with her husband and 8-month-old daughter.

'We are now in our land.'

But not all Israelis think Bnei Menashe qualify as Jews, and some suspect they are simply fleeing poverty in India.

Avraham Poraz, a former interior minister, said they were not linked to the Jewish people. He also charged that Israeli settlers were using them to strengthen Israel's claims to the West Bank.

Many Israelis dispute the Indian villager's claims, concerned they are simply fleeing poverty in India

Many Israelis dispute the Indian villager's claims, concerned they are simply fleeing poverty in India. File picture

When Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognized the Bnei Menashe as a lost tribe in 2005, he insisted they undergo conversion to be recognised as Jews.

He sent a rabbinical team to India that converted 218 Bnei Menashe, until Indian authorities stepped in and stopped it.

The Bnei Menashe come from the states of Mizoram and Manipur near India's border with Myanmar, where, they say, their ancestors landed after the Assyrians banished them.

A former Israeli interior minister, said that Israeli settlers were using the Bnei Menashe to strengthen Israel's claims to the disputed West Bank

A former Israeli interior minister, said that Israeli settlers were using the Bnei Menashe to strengthen Israel's claims to the disputed West Bank

Over the centuries they became animists, and in the 19th century, British missionaries converted many to Christianity.

Even so, the group says they continued to practice ancient Jewish rituals, including animal sacrifices, which they say were passed down from generation to generation.

Jews in the Holy Land stopped animal sacrifices after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.