According to historians Yemeni Jews are considered to be one of the oldest communities in the Arab world. It is thought that they wound up in Yemen some 2,500 years ago, pre-Islam, trading for King Solomon. For the most part they have lived peacefully in Yemen for centuries, until 1947 when dozens of Jews were killed and their homes and shops were destroyed as a backlash to the creation of the state of Israel. So, from 1949 to 1950 most of the Yemeni Jewish population (over 49,000) were sent to Israel to escape the violence. Some 2,000 opted to remain, understandably so, since this had been their home for centuries. Then again in the early 1990s another 1,200 or so left, mostly to Israel, after decades of not being allowed to leave the country. Several hundred stayed behind, by choice.
Fast forward to 2004- persecution of Jews by a rebel Shiite group (Al Houthis) increased in Saada, one of the 2 remote areas of Yemen where Jews lived. In 2007 they were actually threatened by the Houthis,
"We warn you to leave the area immediately... [W]e give you a period of 10 days, or you will regret it," read a letter signed by a Al Houthi representative cited in a Reuters article.So all 60 of the Jews from Saada fled to the capital where former President Ali Abdullah Saleh took care of them. Meanwhile, the Jews in Raida (the last Jewish enclave) lived in relative peace until December 2008 when a retired air force pilot (Abdul-Aziz al-Abdi) shot a prominent Jew, Moshe Nahari, because he refused to convert to Islam. The violence against Jews escalated when Israel mounted their offensive in Gaza towards the end of December 2008, with men and children being beaten and pelted with rocks. And even though these were not Israelis or Zionists, these were Jews who wanted to remain in Yemen, they were still harassed and persecuted until they were forced to leave. What I find interesting is that the Jews in Raida lived very similar pious, religious lives as their Muslim neighbours. In fact, Jewish women, like their Muslim sisters, rarely appeared in public and when they did they wore the Niqab (the black robes that cover the whole body except the eyes). If you look at the photo above, you can't even tell the women are Jewish.
Then in October 2009, as a result of continued anti-Semitism, the U.S. state department mounted a clandestine mission to save the Jews of Yemen. Some were brought to the U.S, some were to travel to Israel, and some remained under the guardianship of the Yemeni government.
Now, with a total Jewish population of only 450 or so, and Saleh (their protector) gone, the Jews of Yemen are very frightened.
Community leader Rabbi Yahia Youssef Mussa told Bikyamasr.com that Saleh had over his three decades in power and had always been “kind and compassionate” towards the community, adding that now that he was leaving he feared that “groups” would target his people.
“We were living under President Saleh’s protection so far and I am now worried that the next government will ignore our plight. We don’t have the ability to push back the Shia militants if they attack us. What will become of us?” asked the Rabbi.
According to the Rabbi, the escalating trouble between Israel and Iran could mean increased trouble for them.
“Al-Houthis are financed and groomed by Iran, therefore the Jewish community in Yemen has become their target … they have already pillaged our village and stole all our belongings."
They are already noticing the difference in treatment since Saleh's departure. Some families who had been provided with housing after their village was raided have been asked to move.
“We were living under President Saleh’s protection so far and I am now worried that the next government will ignore our plight. We don’t have the ability to push back the Shia militants if they attack us. What will become of us?” asked the rabbi.
It looks like after all these centuries, there might not be any Jews left in Yemen.