Monday, February 16, 2015

Yemen Jews quietly slip out despite Houthi assurances

Yemenite Jewish boys study in Raida, northern Yemen. The photo was taken in 2009. Now only 26 remain (Photo: Reuters)

 Seventy-one Jews are are all that remain of Yemen's ancient Jewish community, and they too may soon flee after a Shi'ite Muslim militia seized power in the strife-torn country this month."Individuals will have to make their own decisions",  an Israeli immigration official tells Reuters: 

Harassment by the Houthi movement - whose motto is "Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, victory to Islam" - caused Jews in recent years to largely quit the northern highlands they shared with Yemen's Shi'ites for millennia.

But political feuds in which the Jews played no part escalated last September into an armed Houthi plunge into the capital Sanaa, the community's main refuge from which some now contemplate a final exodus.

Around six Yemeni Jews from the same family arrived in Israel on Friday, members of the community told Reuters.

"Since last September, our movements have become very limited for fear of the security situation, and there are some members of the community who preferred to leave Yemen," sighed chief rabbi Yahya Youssef, sitting in his apartment within a walled compound next to ministry of defense.

Dressed in the traditional Yemeni flowing robe, blazer and headwrap, Rabbi Yahya's lined face is framed by two long curls on each side. Along with Hebrew he and his co-religionists speak Arabic, value local customs and are wary of life beyond home.

"We don't want to leave. If we wanted to, we would have done so a long time ago," Yahya said as his infirmed old father rested in the sun outside their home.

Jews evacuated from the Houthi stronghold of Saada province in 2009 to the government-guarded compound have dwindled from 76 to 45. A group of 26 others live in a city north of the capital. (...)


The local Houthi official now responsible for the surrounding neighborhood visited Rabbi Yahya on Thursday to offer reassurances, according to a Reuters correspondent who was present.

"Jews are safe and no harm will come to them," said Abu al-Fadl, who like other leaders in the movement goes by a nom de guerre and not his given name.

"The problem of the Houthis is not with the Jews of Yemen but with Israel, which occupies Palestine," he added.

But memories of death threats and Houthi fighters burning down Jewish homes during the militia's decade of on-off war with the now nonexistent Sanaa government will not be soon forgotten.
Israel-linked organizations have in the past repeatedly helped whisk Jews out of Yemen, but Israeli government spokespeople declined comment on the matter, citing reluctance to endanger Yemen's Jews by association with Israel.

"There are certainly discussions going on over options available regarding the Yemenite Jews," said an Israeli official briefed on immigration matters.

But these are individuals who will have to make their own individual decisions about what to do," the official added.

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