Month: December 2009

In 2009, Yemen’s Jewish community fizzled out


Jewish children in Sana’a. From Josh Berer’s blog

2009 will be remembered as the year when the Jewish community of Yemen came to an end. Now that Yemen has become a battlefield between Saudi and Iranian-backed forces and that the ‘underpants’ airliner bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is said to have been radicalised by al-Qaeda there, Yemen is no place for Jews. A steady stream of Jews is quietly making its way from Yemen to Israel and the US: although this article in the Yemen Observer hesitates to put a figure on the emigration trend, most probably fewer than 300 remain. A pocket of some 70 are nevertheless determined to remain in the capital, Sana’a.

“Leaders of the Jewish Community in Yemen have publicly stated that the population of the remaining community does not exceed 370, with continued decline a certitude. Another Jewish citizen, Yahya Saeed, sighed, “We are less than that.”

“Israel, as well as other American and Jewish Foundations, have organized flights in order to evacuate the remaining Jews from Yemen in recent years, with the underlying assumption that the Jewish community will be threatened if they do not leave. In the past year, a Yemeni Jew was killed on the doorstep of his house, while several other Jewish Yemeni citizens have received threats.

“After the violent uprisings against the Jews in Yemen in the 1940’s, tens of thousands of Yemeni Jews left Yemen, destined for Israel, assisted by internationally organized flights, in an exodus known as Operation Magic Carpet. (…) America Jewish organizations have managed to raise over 750 thousands dollars in order to extricate Yemeni Jews from their country under a program launched by the U.S. Department of State.

“Not all Yemeni Jews feel that the money is well spent. Some would rather see the money spent on the communities themselves, in an effort to restore, beautify and protect the homes of the Jews, rather then detach them from their adored homeland. “If they want to offer help, let them do it by establishing schools and covering the expenses of marriage, not to work removing us,” Rabbi Yousif Gaish exclaimed to the BBC. “I hope these free flights will be stopped.”

“Some of our more extreme Muslims neighbors do indeed bother us, and often we feel we are not welcome here, but we have no choice. Despite the fact that some foreign organizations urge us to leave, we cannot bear being away from our beloved home. We love Yemen,” Yahay Saeed added.

Read article in full

Conversions: This clip in Hebrew on the Jews in Rayda, Yemen, the main community in flight, reveals that Jewish girls were made to marry Muslims and convert to Islam. One Jew says he is the last of his family not to have converted to Islam. The conversions took place about 30 years ago.

As many as 28,000 Jews may have converted to Islam, one Yemenite Jew in Israel claims, although this figure seems preposterously high, given that almost the entire community of 50,000 was airlifted to Israel in 1949 – 50.

Jews of Yemen remain in eye of Al-Qaeda storm (With thanks: bh)

Mubarak approves pilgrimage to Rabbi’s shrine

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Tuesday acceded to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to allow hundreds of Jewish pilgrims to visit the tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira near Alexandria at the end of next week, Haaretz reports.(With thanks: Lily)

Citing security concerns, Egyptian authorities had initially refused to allow a traditional hilula, or remembrance ceremony held on the anniversary of a revered rabbi’s death, to take place at the tomb.

In 1879, Abuhatzeira, an elderly and well-respected rabbi, made his way from his native Morocco to the Land of Israel via Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. While passing through the Egyptian city of Damanhour, he grew ill and died.

Every year on the 19th of Tevet (the date of his death according to the Hebrew calendar) a hilula ceremony is held at his tomb, often attended by hundreds of devotees. But last year, the anniversary fell immediately after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and Egyptian authorities denied Israeli worshippers entry, saying they could not ensure their safety.

In recent weeks, Israeli defense officials have asked their Egyptian counterparts to ensure the pilgrims were allowed entry. Prior to Netanyahu’s trip to Egypt, Shas chairman Eli Yishai asked him to speak with Mubarak about this issue.

An Israeli diplomat said Mubarak personally approved Netanyahu’s request and instructed intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to take measures to ensure the worshippers’ safety.

Read article in full

‘Thousands of pilgrims may come’ – Canadian Press

Over 300 came to Israel from Muslim states in 2009

Over 300 Jews moved to Israel from Muslim states in 2009, AFP reports. Some 47 Jews fleeing persecution and unrest arrived in Israel from Yemen. Other reports say that this year another 60 moved to the US.

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Jewish immigration to Israel increased in 2009 by 17 per cent compared to the previous year, the first rise in a decade, the government said on Sunday.

According to figures presented by the Jewish Agency, the government body in charge of immigration, 16,244 people immigrated to Israel in 2009, whereas 13,869 had moved to the Jewish state the previous year. “We’ve recorded this year, for the first time in ten years, an increase in the number of immigrants,” the agency’s Chairman Nathan Sharansky told reporters.

Nearly half of the immigrants arrived from former Soviet states, with the rest came mostly from North and South America and Europe. Jewish Agency figures also showed that 331 Jews arrived in 2009 from Muslim states, including Turkey, Morocco and Yemen.

Read article in full

According to Yeshiva World News: ‘This year, the Jewish Agency boasts the immigration of 47 Jews from Yemen, 25 from Morocco, 13 from Tunisia, and 3 from Lebanon. She added there are even Jews who arrived from countries from which there is a marginal Jewish community. This would include 4 immigrants from Hong Kong, 3 from China, 3 from Japan, and 2 from Honduras. There were also immigrants from Kenya, Taiwan, and Madagascar.’

Shemesh draws up Iraqi-Jewish claims petition

An Israel-based association of Iraqi Jews, Shemesh, headed by lawyer David Nawi, is attempting to maintain pressure on the Israeli government to pursue Jewish compensation claims agains the Iraqi government. Nawi has drawn up a petition.(With thanks: Iraqijews)

The petition reads as follows:

“We hereby call on the Israeli government and the Knesset of Israel to take up with the Iraqi government the question of compensation for Jews from Iraq. Compensation is for property robbed, stolen and nationalised by the head of the Iraqi goevrnment Nouri al-Saeed in 1950-1951. And compensation for those who did not own property for pain, suffering and persecution under the militant Iraqi regime headed by Nouri al-Saeed.

“We again call on the government of Israel not to overlook this historic window of opportunity before us – a democratic Iraq, whose ministers have announced that it is possible to pay compensation to Jews originating from Iraq.”

In September 2005, Nawi filed a suit with the Israeli High Court of Justice on behalf of his group, then named Shemesh-Shalom ve Shilumin. The suit sought to force the Israeli government to enter into compensation negotiations with the new Iraqi government.

Sign the petition here (Hebrew)

‘Palestinians drove Iraqi Jews to Israel’ – author

At last, an Iraqi tells it like it was: the Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who incited the 1941 Farhoud attacks, was guilty of the political stupidity of driving the Jews of Iraq into Israel. The following are excerpts from an interview with Iraqi author Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on December 4, 2009. (With thanks: Sacha, Lily)

Here is the MEMRI clip.

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: When you meet an Iraqi Jew today on the streets of Europe or elsewhere, he remembers his co-existence with his Muslim or Christian neighbor.

Interviewer: When did the Iraqi Jews begin to lose that sense of security and tolerance?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: When pan-Arab nationalism grew stronger in Iraq, from the late 1940’s to the early 1950’s. The Jew began to be the target of deliberate affronts. Iraqi Jews are known for their patriotism. They have nothing to do with Israel. The issue of Israel and Zionism…

Interviewer: But many of the Jews moved to Israel.

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: They were coerced to move.

Interviewer: Who forced them?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: The wave of pan-Arab nationalism within Iraq.

Interviewer: So they thought that Israel would be better for them than Iraq?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: They did not go [straight] to Israel. First, they went to European countries, to Iran*… They tried to find an interim region from where they could later return to Iraq. You shouldn’t be surprised if I told you that the first to study [the possibility] of expelling the Jews from Iraq was the so-called Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin Al-Husseini.

Interviewer: What, Amin Al-Husseini banished the Jews of Iraq to Palestine?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: Yes, Amin Al-Husseini played a significant role, along with German Nazism, in dragging the Jews out of Iraq.

Interviewer: How?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: In the days of the “Farhoud” pogroms, at the end of May and the beginning of June 1941 – which was called the revolution of Rashid Ali Al-Kilani… This is well known. The “heroes” of the Farhoud were Amin Al-Husseini, and some Syrian and Palestinian teachers. I am not accusing these people of collaborating with Israel, but I am accusing them of political stupidity. You drive out a group of peoples who are doctors, blacksmiths…

Interviewer: How did this happen? How did they pressure the Iraqi Jews to move to Israel?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: By organizing the Farhoud. This was determined by government investigations…

Interviewer: Tell us the story.

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: Amin Al-Husseini was in Iraq then, and so were teachers from Palestine and from Syria. They believed that every Jew was a Zionist, but they failed to understand the mentality of Iraqi Jews. Iraqi Jews lived in Iraq 3,500 years ago. When Cyrus, the Persian king who invaded Babylon and occupied it, he issued a decree, inscribed on a clay cylinder – which can be found at the British Museum. The decree stated that any Jew who wants to return to his country, to Jerusalem, may do so. Only very few returned. The [others] said: This is our country. At the beginning of the modern Iraqi state, the French commander met with the dignitaries of Iraqi Jewry – the English commander, pardon me – and talked to them about the Balfour declaration. They said categorically: “This is our country, and Jerusalem and Palestine are holy places, and we go on pilgrimage there, like the Muslims go to Mecca.” This was the position of the Jews.

Interviewer: In the case of Farhoud specifically, how can you accuse Amin Al-Husseini and German Nazism?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: It is not me who is making accusations. These are legal investigations by the government. The pan-Arab nationalist incited the mob to attack the Jews for two days.

* Hundreds of Jews did leave for Iran and India after the 1941 Farhoud and some returned to Iraq, but it is incorrect to say that most Jews went to Israel ‘indirectly’: 90 percent of the community was airlifted to Israel in 1950 -51, although the first flights were routed via Cyprus.

Read transcript in full

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

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