JERUSALEM – Many of Yemen’s Jews fled their homes last weekend after receiving death threats from Islamic militants accusing the country’s tiny Jewish community of serving as agents for “global Zionism.”
The Jews said they feared for their lives. It was disclosed that they had been forced to pay special taxes that Islam imposes on Jews and Christians in return for protection and security.
About 45 Jews left their village in Sa’ada county in Yemen after Dawoud Yousuf Mousa, one of the heads of the local Jewish community, was warned on Jan.10 that if the Jews don’t leave within 10 days they would be exposed to killings, abductions and looting.
Four masked militants approached Mousa and delivered a letter to him warning that the Jewish community had been under Islamic surveillance.
“After accurate surveillance over the Jews residing in Al Haid, it has become clear to us that they were doing things which serve mainly global Zionism, which seeks to corrupt the people and distance them from their principles, their values, their morals, and their religion,” the letter stated.
“Islam calls upon us to fight against the disseminators of decay,” the letter said. The threats have been attributed to disciples of Shi’ite religious leader Hossein Bader a-Din al-Khouty.
Mousa reportedly told local authorities that the militants told him if the Jews don’t flee within 10 days “the Jewish community would bear the consequences.”
According to a recent Yemeni immigrant to Israel with contacts in Sa’ada, the Jewish community there received another letter Friday warning, “whoever remains at his home, will be killed or his children will be taken away.”
Sa’ada’s Jewish community, which had lived in the village for generations, was forced to evacuate their homes and leave some of their possessions with local sheiks.
The displaced Jews are staying at a hotel in the center of Sa’ada, where they have been petitioning local authorities for protection. The Yemen Jews say the government has refused to offer assistance other than to temporarily pay for the hotel stays.
The Jews reportedly spoke of long-term Muslim intimidation and of having to pay special taxes because they were Jewish.
The Jewish community in Yemen consists of several hundred people. According to recent immigrants to Israel, the Yemeni Jews don’t want to leave their country.
Most of Yemen’s Jews were evacuated to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet, a series of semi-secret airlifts between June 1949 and September 1950 that brought 45,000 to the Jewish state with the assistance of Britain and the U.S.
A smaller, continuous migration was allowed to continue until 1962, when a civil war in Yemen put an abrupt halt to any further Jewish exodus. Several thousand Jews remained.
Then in the early 1990′s, after years of petitioning by a group led by Hayim Tawil, a professor at Yeshiva University, most of the rest of Yemen’s Jews were brought to Israel, except the few hundred who decided to stay in Yemen.