Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have ordered at least some of the country’s remaining Jews to leave, according to sources in the Amran Governorate, north of the capital Sanaa, who spoke recently with The Media Line.
According to Ali Qudair, a tribal chief in the governorate, soldiers surrounded a village in mid-July to question members of at least one Jewish family living there about its contacts with people abroad.
“A group of military vehicles arrived in the area, taking up positions at the entrances to the village and establishing checkpoints,” Qudair told The Media Line.
“The soldiers entered the house of a Jewish family in the village and questioned members about their correspondence with the State of Israel, their property in the village and other areas, and whether or not they were in contact with relatives residing in other countries.”
Qudair added that some of those questioned were taken to an unknown location and held for 48 hours.
“During the past few years,” he said, “the Jews have been denied many of their rights. They no longer can travel except with prior permission from the Houthi-appointed area supervisor.”
Qudair’s version of events was corroborated by Saeed Ahmad (not his real name), a resident of the nearby town of Kharef who says he enjoys strong friendships with many Jews in the area.
“On July 12, the Houthis arrested seven individuals from the Jewish community after questioning them and searching some of their homes,” he told The Media Line.
Ahmad adds that the Shi’ite Houthis, who have taken over most of Yemen’s main population centers, ordered these Jews to leave the country, imposing certain conditions on them regarding their property, most notably that they could sell it only to residents of the area or to the state – meaning to the Houthis themselves.
Ahmad said Houthi authorities were now arranging for their exit from Yemen, giving them a specific mechanism for traveling, communicating and conducting business.
Yemen’s Jewish community is estimated to have reached about 200,000 before members began leaving early in the last century, the exodus reaching a pinnacle in 1949 and 1950 with Operation Magic Carpet, a mission of the Israeli government, which brought some 50,000 people from Yemen to the Jewish state. Scores more were flown to Israel, reportedly in 2013 and 2016, in two flights that were kept secret for fear of disrupting sensitive channels of movement.
In 2011, Felice Friedson, president and CEO of The Media Line, flew to Sanaa, where she interviewed the community’s chief rabbi.
In light of the latest developments, a source in Yemen’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor expressed concern to The Media Line, explaining the way the Houthis view the Jews.
“The group sentenced the Jews to death with its slogan,” the source said, referring to “God is great, death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews, victory to Islam,” an oft-repeated refrain.
“It then started, in fact, killing, jailing and deporting many of the Jews in the governorates of Saada and Amran,” the source continued, although the source was able to cite only one killing, that of a man was stabbed to death after being accused of sorcery.
“The remaining Jews in Yemen do not exceed 22 families, most of them living in Amran Governorate,” the source continued. “Others live in the Sanaa and Saada governorates.
The source mentioned unconfirmed reports about Jews who have been languishing in prison for the past three years, with the Houthis using them as a bargaining chip to effect the departure of the community without causing an international outcry.
“We don’t have accurate statistics about the number of Jews and rabbis in Yemen,” the source stated, “especially since the issue of the Jews has changed from one of demographics to one of security, meaning that researching it would get someone in trouble.”
From available information and the testimony of members of the community who already left, the current number of Jews in Yemen could be 43 people in Sanaa and more than 60 in Amran Governorate.
A source in the Ministry of Interior told The Media Line that “higher authorities” in Yemen had an interest in keeping matters about Jews secret.
“Decisions regarding deportations, investigations or any action against the Jews come from intelligence officials under the Houthis’ command,” the source stated, adding that security forces are then “directed to take certain actions.”
The ministry has reportedly been under orders that came four years ago to ban Jews from travelling between governorates and main cities, and limiting their work to simple trading and farming. They are also barred from performing religious rituals in public.
The same source informed The Media Line that deportations of Jews from Yemen might take place in the coming months, claiming that there had been intervention by “superpowers” and the UN special envoy, as well as information about Yemen’s Jews leaving for the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
On August 8, the WAM news agency in the UAE reported that the country had been instrumental in reuniting a Jewish family, having flown the parents in from Yemen and the others from London.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the extreme sensitivity of this report, most identities have been withheld though all sources have been vetted.