Yemen’s Jews fear for their lives, yet refuse to make aliyah
Remaining members of Yemenite Jewish community say they have paid heavy price for radicalization of country, but won’t leave for fear they will lose property, will not be able to return
Yemenite Jews. Think twice before speaking Hebrew (Photo: Reuters)
Yemenite military training undergone by the Nigerian man who tried to blow up an American airplane on Christmas Day, along with threats made by terror elements, which led to the shutting down of Western embassies in the country, did not surprise the few Jews left in Yemen.
The small Jewish community, centered in the capital of Sanaa, has been dealing with harsh circumstances due to fundamental Islamic factions taking control of the country. Many of its members fear for their lives – but refuse to immigrate to Israel.
The community, which has only some 200 members, paid a heavy price following the radicalization of Yemen. Only a year ago, a former pilot with the Yemeni air force shot to death Moshe Yaish-Nahari, the brother of one of the community’s chief rabbis, because he refused to convert to Islam.
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 word in Hebrew.
Y., 44, who resides in the city of Dhamar and is a member of a prominent family in the Jewish community, refused to be identified in an interview with Ynet, because he said he feared for his life.
“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 caused 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 Yemenites 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.”
Won’t leave despite everything
Even in the face of grim reality, Y. clarifies that he does not intend on leaving 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, calling 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.”