This article in the Yemen Times is blunt about the harassment faced by the remaining few Jews of Yemen. It highlights a key reason why Jews in the north, at Raida in Amram province, can't leave: they cannot sell their assets. Yahya Yaqoub says that his Muslim neighbours claim they own his house, although he has the deeds to prove otherwise. (With thanks: Eliyahu)
Jews hide their sidelocks to avoid harassment (Photo: skynewsarabia.com)
As security continues to deteriorate in Yemen, many of the country’s
remaining Jews may once again entertain the thought of leaving and
resettling in safer countries.
On Jan. 21, Robin and Ishaq, two
Yemeni Jews living in Sana’a, were beaten while buying groceries in the
Old City, according to Yousef Habib, one of the few remaining Jewish
rabbis left in the city. The attackers were allegedly popular committee
members of the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah.
approached near Bab Al-Yemen as they were leaving the city by two men,
who noticed them because of their Payot,” said Habib. Payot are long
twisted locks of hair worn by observant Jewish men of all backgrounds.
“The two men stopped them and ordered that they praise the prophet
Muhammad, however the two refused. As a result they were then publically
beaten, and had their possessions confiscated.”
It wasn’t the
first time Jews in Sana’a had experienced such attacks. In 2012, Aaron
Zindani, a Yemeni Jew living in Sana’a, was stabbed to death at a local
market while with his children.
Although being Jewish in Yemen
has long posed problems for the country’s small community, Habib says
those who remain have become increasingly fearful since the Houthi
takeover of Sana’a and other parts of the country in recent months.
“Most of Yemen’s Jews live in Sana’a and Amran, both areas now firmly
under the control of Ansar Allah,” he said. “Many of us are thinking of
leaving and going to Israel, like others have done previously.”
Abu Taleb, a member of the Houthi Political Office in Sana’a, denied
the Houthis had anything to do with the attack, and asserted under
Houthi control Jews in Yemen would be able to live and operate freely as
any other Yemeni citizen. “Our problems are with Zionism and the
occupation of Palestine,” he said. “But Jews here have nothing to fear.”
insistence by Houthi leaders that the movement is not sectarian, Habib
says many Jews are terrified by the movement’s slogan, which reads: “God
is great, death to America, death to Israel, damn the Jews, victory for
“Many of us are originally from Sa’ada [governorate],
the traditional homeland of the Houthis, and we know them all to well,”
he said. “Many of us came to Sana’a fleeing Ansar Allah, now it’s like
they’ve followed us here.”
Forty-six of Yemen’s Jews live in
Tourist City, a walled compound housing foreign aid workers, diplomats
and others working in the oil sectors located near the US embassy in
Sana’a’s Sawan district. Another 48 live near Raida city in Amran
governorate. Most choose to remain isolated, avoiding going out in
public for fear of harassment and discrimination by their Muslim
Most of those in Tourist City are former residents of
Sa’ada, and are recent arrivals in Sana’a, having fled the violence
that resulted from the government’s various wars and campaign against
the Houthis between 2004 and 2010. “My house in Sa’ada was bombed by
government forces in 2006, so I came here,” said Habib.
Salem Mousa, 36, also lives in Tourist City and migrated along with
Habib and others from Sa’ada in 2006. According to him, he and other
Jews were not just fleeing the fallout of war, but also the active
discrimination they faced from the Houthis. “Houthis pursued us
everywhere we went,” he said. “Attacks and even forced conversions were
common in that time.” Various news reports from 2010 confirm the type of
treatment Jews received at the hands of the Houthis. In 2009, the US
State Department evacuated 100 Yemeni Jews to the United States where
they were granted refugee status.
“It was a very traumatizing
experience,” said Mousa, describing his experience fleeing to Sana’a.
“Even after arriving here [Sana’a] we didn’t feel safe mixing with the
local population. The government lets us live in Tourist city, away from
Beginning in 2009, the Jews of Tourist City were
provided monthly stipends by Yemen’s government including rations of
oil, sugar and other basic goods, a program that was temporarily put on
hold for eight months in 2012 because of the economic crisis the country
faced following Yemen’s 2011 uprising. The aid has now since resumed.
order to avoid harassment in the instances where he does leave the
compound, Mousa has shaved his side-locks, a tradition observed by pious
Jewish men of all backgrounds. “When I first arrived in Sana’a, I still
had my locks,” he said. “However, people recognized me as a Jew right
away, and would shout and harass me in the street,” he added. “So I
decided to get rid of them. I’m not happy about it, but it was
Despite the hardships he faces, Mousa says he does
not intend on leaving Yemen, and will remain here the rest of his life.
“Most of us [Yemeni Jews] have left, but I won’t. This is my country,
I’ll die here.”
According to Al-Yahoodi Al-Hali (the Nice Jew),
written by Ali Al-Muqri, a popular Yemeni scholar and author from Taiz,
Yemen’s Jewish population at one point numbered almost 50,000. “Many
Yemeni Jews lived in various regions in the country’s north and south,
including Sana’a, Aden, and Tarim, however many traveled to Israel
following the 1948 United Nations partition plan,” the book reads. (...)
Approximately 48 other
Jews live in the village of Bayt Harash, just outside Raida city, the
capital of Raida district in Yemen’s Amran governorate. Yahya Yaqoub is a
Hebrew teacher and father of four who teaches at a private Jewish
school in Bayt Harash. He claims that in his village Jews face similar
discrimination as is witnessed by those in Sana’a and Sa’ada. “I haven’t
cut off my locks, however I hide them underneath my Imamah [Yemeni
headscarf] whenever I go outside,” he said. “If I don’t, people might
identify me as a Jew. If that happens, who knows, anything could
Several years ago the school had about 20 students, he
said. Now that number has dropped to seven, as the number of Jews living
and working in the area has dropped due to people fleeing the country.
Parents of the students avoid sending them to public schools he says,
for fear of the harassment they would face from students and staff.
Jews are treated as equals by the state and in state institutions such
as schools,” he said. “But in practice, Jewish children who go to public
schools are often forced to learn the Quran and face harassment from
teachers, especially those teaching religion, Islamic culture, and
Two of Yaqoub’s children left to study in the
US and Israel he said, but he currently remains in the village with his
wife and ten-year old son, also named Yaqoub. Yaqoub says he would like
to immigrate to Israel or the US to meet up with his sons but cannot
afford it. Three houses in Bayt Harash belonging to family members who
left are currently in his possession he says, and if he could sell them
he may be able to gather up enough money to leave.
claims he has faced resistance from Muslim neighbors, who claim the
houses belong to them, despite the fact that Yaqoub claims he possesses
documentation proving his ownership.
Many Yemeni Jews are
unemployed, and, due to security concerns, find it difficult to practice
their traditional trade as goldsmiths, jewelers and dagger forgers. As a
result, the already small community has continued decreasing. On Aug.
15, 2013, 20 Yemeni Jews were smuggled into Israel by the Jewish Agency
and Yemeni middlemen. Thirty five others reportedly were also evacuated
from the country during the same year. The Yemen Times contacted the
Jewish Agency, but was refused any comment.
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