After receiving death threats from a Shi’ite extremist group, some 45 members of the tiny Jewish community in Yemen were forced to flee their homes in a northern village this month and were staying in a hotel in a nearby city, according to press reports from the region.
A leader of the Jewish refugees, Dawoud Yousef Mousa, told the Yemen Observer newspaper that the community had received several threats from a group identified with slain Shi’ite cleric Hussein Badr al-Deen al-Houthi, whose followers are seen as rebels against Yemen’s Sunni-led government.
The first threat came January 10 in a handwritten letter telling the Jews to leave their village, Al-Salem, within 10 days. “After an accurate surveillance of the Jews who are residing in Al Haid,” it read, “it has become clear to us that they were doing things which serve mainly Zionism, which seeks to corrupt the people and distance them from their principles, their values, their morals and their religion, and spread all kinds of vice in the society.”
The letter concluded: “Our religion ordered us to fight the corrupt people and expel them. Allah is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse to Jews, and Victory to Islam.” Yahya Sad al-Khudhair, self-described leader of the Houthi supporters in the region, had signed it.
Mousa and others met with local authorities to ask for protection, but they were assured there was no danger and told to return to their homes, the newspaper said. After a band of masked men approached Mousa on January 17 and threatened to slaughter the Jews, the 45 community members fled to the regional capital, Sa’ada. They were put up in the Paris Tower Hotel at the expense of a local tribal sheik, while continuing to meet with authorities and demand protection.
However, they received another threat in the hotel January 21, warning them to leave Yemen or be killed, Mousa told the newspaper.
Though Yemeni officials confirm that the Jews have fled their homes, they insist the situation is under control. “Yes, they received threats from al-Houthi supporters,” Sa’ada deputy governor Salem Al Wehayshi told the Saudi press agency Gulf News this week. “They are now here in the hotel but I can assure you that the problem will be solved today, and they will return to their villages.”
Yemen was home to about 63,000 Jews before 1948, when most of them were airlifted to the newly born State of Israel. About 400 Jews remain, mostly living in northern villages. They are recognized by the government as a protected religious minority, known in traditional Islamic law as dhimmies. The community maintains loose ties with the Satmar Hasidic sect in Brooklyn.
The group appealed in writing last week to the regional governor and to Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, demanding special measures to protect them. “It is not a secret that we are dhimmies, we are in the protection of the Prophet Mohammed, and in the protection of President Ali Abdullah Saleh,” the letter said. “We are under your protection. We would rather die than leave our homes.”
A Yemeni Jew who came to Israel six years ago, identified only as Masoud, told Israel Radio this week that the Jews who remain in Yemen “are stubborn; they don’t want to come here,” according to Yediot Aharonot.
Masoud said that, in phone conversations this week, his relatives told him that “they are afraid, but they said that for now they don’t want to emigrate.”