Sunday, February 22, 2015

Last harassed Jews trapped by poverty

 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.

“They were 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.”

Fadl 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.”

Despite 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 Islam.”

“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 neighbors.

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.

Haboub 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 prying eyes.”

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.

In 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 necessary.”

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 happen.”

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.

“Legally, 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 similar subjects.”

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.

However he 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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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

they need to be rescued from this horror show.