Thursday, January 07, 2010

Remaining Jews 'scared to lose what they have'

Yemeni Jews fear for their lives in the growing climate of fundamentalism - but still refuse to leave, Ynet News reports. One reason is fear of losing what they have and becoming dependent on others:

Although the members of the community do not make a special effort to conceal their Jewish identity and long side locks, they think twice before uttering a work in Hebrew.

Forty four year-old Y, who resides in the city of Dhamar and is a member of a prominent family in the Jewish community, refused to be identified during an interview with Ynet, because he said he feared for his life.

Yemenite Jews think twice before speaking Hebrew (Photo: Reuters)

"Yemen is not the same country anymore," said Y, who insisted on conducting the interview in Hebrew, after making sure he was not being listened to. "The Taliban took control over the whole northern region; it is not easy being a Jew or a Christian here. We do not hide, but we still prefer to travel in large groups so that we do not attract the attention of the Muslims," he said.

According to Y, the tense reality led several members to convert to Islam. "We are among the few that are still Jewish. We have a community life, but there are no more operational synagogues, and so we pray in our houses. Radical Islam has taken control of everything. If they were to find out I am speaking in Hebrew they would have me murdered," he said.

Y added that even though one cannot ignore the process of fundamentalism that is taking place in his country, many Yemenis choose to remain indifferent in the face of these events. "They are not concerned by it; it doesn't seem like they realize that Yemen can turn into a battlefield. There is an absolute Muslim majority here, and they don't care if Yemen is on the side of the US or the Taliban."

Y noted that one of the reasons for this indifference was the vast poverty in the country. "People live on a sack of flour that needs to last for two weeks. They will be in favor of whoever gives them money."

Even in the face of grim reality, Y clarifies that he does not intend to leave Yemen. "If we leave the country we will not be allowed to take our possessions – everything will be confiscated. I don't know how we will survive. I have relatives in Israel and in the US, and they always ask me to join them, but for now we are getting by. We have a steady income and a house," Y concluded.

Y's comments did not surprise the President of the Israeli Federation of Yemenite Jews Dr. Moshe Nachum.

"I have been trying to convince them to immigrate to Israel for the past 33 years. There is nothing we haven't done; we sent envoys from New York and London; we promised monetary benefits and even used the help of their relatives, but they are scared to lose what they have."

According to Nachum, one of the main factors deterring Yemenite Jews from making aliyah is the financial aid provided by members of the Jewish Satmar community in the United State, which is known for its radical stance against Zionism and the State of Israel.

The situation in Yemen is like a time bomb, Nachum added, and called on the remaining Jews to leave as soon as possible. "Yemen is not itself; the Taliban has taken over it. At this rate it will become a radical and racist country just like Iran. If the US is worried about the situation of the Yemenite Jews and wants to take them out of there – that means the community is in very bad shape," he said.

Nachum warned that members of the community are being watched by Taliban and al-Qaeda members and estimated that the only way to pull them out was by "using a special unit of CIA, FBI and church factions."

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