Jews who refused to leave Yemen having second thoughts

The 67 Yemeni Jews who refused to join the recent secret airlift to Israel organized by the Jewish Agency are now having second thoughts. Sources in Yemen report that the group, comprised mostly of children and the elderly and located in the Yemeni capital Sana’a and its neighboring province of Amran, has been subject to constant harassment.

Speaking to The Media Line on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals, a Yemeni Jew now trying to leave for Israel said the remaining Jews complain that in addition to increasing abuse by Muslims, there is no one to lead their religious rituals or to educate their children.

The Jews who remained behind have confirmed reports that the spate of publicity accompanying the mini-exodus and the showcasing of the 600-800 year old Torah scroll that the emigrants took with them has effectively drawn targets on the backs of those who opted out of the airlift.

Prime Minister Netanyahu with Yemeni Jews who recently immigrated to Israel with the Torah scroll they brought with them (Photo: GPO)
Prime Minister Netanyahu with Yemeni Jews who recently immigrated to Israel with the Torah scroll they brought with them (Photo: GPO)

“The Jewish Agency’s decision to release the news about the manuscript arriving in Israel caused us even more seclusion. In Raydah (a city in Amran), they treat us like strangers, even though we are Yemenis just like them. Our religion, which is different from theirs, has made them look at us as (inferior). They have fenced our houses in with stones and cut off the roads leading to our homes (to prevent) us from escaping and to make it difficult for us to get food or any other supplies we need into our homes,” he explained.

“After the news about the manuscript became public, people became very wary of us, accusing us of treason against our country, Yemen. Now they are always watching us. We cannot stand to live here anymore.”

Some Yemeni Jews remained for economic reasons. Saeed Al-Natehi and his wife Muzal Bint Uda, were unable to sell their home, a three-story structure with a large yard enclosed by a stone fence, where they live with their three daughters, a son and two grandchildren. Muzal said they will join the others as soon as their home is sold – which should not be long.

Muzal also expressed her love for Yemen, but concludes that, “currently the best solution is to leave.”

In sharp distinction to Rayda’s Jews, those in Sana’a refused to discuss their situation or reasons for not having left for Israel. Of those who did offer comments, one Sana’a resident said the silence is due to “security reasons,” while another said that he cannot afford to buy a ticket to leave. That, however, seems unlikely given the Israeli government’s commitment to relocate Yemen’s remaining Jews.

Yemen has also been accused of prohibiting Jews from leaving the country, but officials deny such a prohibition exists. Khalid Al-Shaif, chief of Sana’a’s International Airport, told The Media Line that Jews are free to leave the country and there is nothing stopping them.

He explained that, “They are Yemenis, who are subject to the same rules as other citizens. We check their bags, and see their exit and entrance visas. Being Yemenis, we treat them as such; there is no religion-based bias at all,” said Al-Shaif.

Arrests were reported to have been made after the Jewish agency secretly transferred 17 Jews to Israel. But Yemeni officials and local Jews told The Media Line that is not true.

When The Media Line asked the Jewish Agency to comment on word that the airlift failed to rescue all of those who want to go to Israel, spokesman Avi Meyer said, “It was supposed to be the last massive operation. Our understanding was that those people remaining intended to stay there. We said that if any individual who wishes to make aliyah, we will facilitate and they should know that they are welcome in Israel.”

To the question of jeopardizing the safety of those who remained, Meyer said, “The immigrants themselves approved the publicity surrounding their arrival and have proudly spoken to numerous media outlets about their journey home.”

Article written by Ali Ibrahim Al-Moshki and Yasser Rayes

Felice Friedson contributed to this article

Reprinted with permission from The Media Line