Thursday, January 24, 2013
History is closing in on the Jews of Yemen
We've seen many obituaries for the Jews of Yemen before - but this one in the Yemen Post seems to be the final word. The piece pulls no punches over the harsh treatment they have endured over the centuries under Muslim (Shi'a) rule. The final irony is that these Jews, who predate Islam by millennia, are now refugees in their own country (the NGO Sawa'a is asking for UNHCR to recognise them as internally displaced). My own view is that the remnant will be airlifted to Israel, although I take with a pinch of salt reports that a group of Jews has already been flown in via Qatar. (With thanks: Eliyahu, Lily)
In the 19th Century, under the rule of the Imams, the Jews of Yemen became social pariahs, being forced to follow harsh and often humiliating rules -- they were forbidden from wearing new or flamboyant clothes, compelled to walk long distances on foot as riding donkey and mules were reserved for Muslims; they were also prohibited from engaging in money transactions. Reports estimated the Yemeni Jewish community to be standing at 30,000 with 200 in Aden - southern seaport - 10,000 in Sana'a, 1,000 in Sa'ada, 1,000 in Dhamar and 2,000 in the desert of Beydha.
A series of mass migration to the Jewish of Israel left only a handful of Jews in Yemen northern highlands, the only remnants of a long exhausted line of Israelite migrants, who once upon a time sought refuge in the land of Queen Sheba.
Yemen 2011 Revolution left the Jewish community ever more so vulnerable as sectarian tensions started to flare up again in Yemen, awaken by the Houthis' claims over provinces lying north of Sana'a and Sunni extremists clamoring for a return to Sharia law.
With most of the remaining Jews of Yemen now living in a guarded compound in Sana'a, the dwindling community has said to be living a nightmare, with the walls of history literally closing down on them.
Descent into Oblivion: Following a violent and bloody pogrom against the Jewish community in Aden, where 82 Jews were killed by rioters in 1947 and hundreds of home pillage, thousands of members of the community decided to immigrate to Israel. Between June 1949 and September 1950 some 50,000 Jews were shipped off the newly born Jewish State in the so-called Magic Carpet. Until 1962 the exodus continued. With only a few pockets left here and there in Yemen's highlands, the Jews of Yemen faded in the shadows, ignored by the central government and sought extinct by the international community.
The murder in 2008 of Rabbi Moshe Yaish Nahara'i by the hand of radical Islamist prompted then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh to relocate the Jewish communities of Amran and Raidah to the capital, Sana'a, where he felt they would be safer. The issuance of a presidential decree saw the allocation of plots of land to some 50 Jewish families. In 2009, heightened tensions with al-Qaeda led the United Jewish Communities, the U.S State Department, local federations, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to work together to implement the evacuation of close to half of the remaining Jewish population in Yemen.
The remnants were moved to a compound -70 Jews from northern Yemen - as the state openly admitted it could (not) ensure the community safety anywhere else. As Yemen was defiantly moving toward democracy following a three decades' long dictatorial presidency under the yoke of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Jews of Yemen sought political recognition by demanding to be allocated seats in Parliament. Yemen Chief Rabbi Yehia Yussef Mussa told CNN Arabic back in May 21st, 2012, "I demand the government's new attention to this, to work to allocate seats for members of the community in the Consultative Council and Parliament, in order to feel real citizenship, non-discrimination, a right guaranteed by our law and the Constitution."
Mussa emphasized at the time his community was keen to serve Yemen to the best of its abilities as any other citizens would.
On May 22sd, 2012, Aaron Yusef Zindani was stabbed to death outside the U.S Embassy in Sana'a. Having been accused by a neighbor of witchcraft, Aaron received multiple wounds to its chest,back neck, head and stomach, which he was unable to recover from. The attack which was not per se sectarian motivated, however raise fear among the Jewish community that Yemen was no longer a place it could call home.
The Last Straw: Yemeni-based Sawa'a Organization for Anti-Discrimination revealed on Saturday, January 19th, 2013 that the President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi government had decided to suspend its funding for "the remaining 100-odd members of the country's ancient and internally displaced Jewish community."
Sawa'a expressed deep sorrow at the news, stressing that without housing benefits and access to basic services the community had been left stranded, without any mean to support itself. The organization is now arguing the Jews of Yemen fall under the UNHCR in their capacity of IDPs, and therefore should receive "housing and safe living."
Having been excluded from Yemen National Dialogue, Parliament and now mainstream society, the Jews of Yemen have very few options left; a return to the province of Sa'ada from which they forced out in 2008 or exile to Israel, where many before them found comfort in the knowledge they were amid their kins.
As Yemen enters its post-revolution era the pages of history are resolutely closing on the Jews of Yemen.
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