An insight into the life of a Yemeni Jew [Archives:2007/1055/Reportage]

May 31 2007

Interviewed by Saddam Al-Ashmori
[email protected]

Prior to the 1948 “Magic Carpet” operation, the Jewish minority in Yemen was around 50,000. However, under the direct supervision of Imam Yahya, Yemeni Jews were deported to Israel and very few Jews remained in Yemen. They now only number about 600 mainly living in Amran governorate's Raydah area and Al-Salim in Sa'ada governorate, approximately 170 km. from Sana'a.

What distinguishes Jews from others in Yemen are the men's yarmulke (a small, round skullcap) and long curly sideburns, whereas their other features, language and accent are the same. Approximately 57 Al-Salim Jews were evacuated to Sa'ada following the eruption of the fourth war there this past January and later transferred to Sana'a where they were given apartments and salaries by the Yemeni government.

The Yemen Times spoke with 28-year-old Yemeni Jew Daoud Suleiman Marji, a married father of one son, and what follows are the details from that meeting.

What's the total number of Jews in Yemen and where are they?

There are Yemeni Jews in Amran and Sa'ada, but I don't know the exact number. Maybe there are 600.

Why did you come to Sana'a?

We came here to escape the war ignited by the terrorist Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, may Allah punish him.

Were you connected with the war between Houthis and the state?

We have no connection with it. We used to live our normal life until we received a letter from Houthis asking us to leave the area and giving us a 10-day ultimatum to do so. We informed the state, which airlifted us via helicopter to Sa'ada and provided us accommodation there.

What did you do when you received the Houthi ultimatum?

We informed the authorities and they transferred us to Sa'ada and gave us protection for 10 days in a Sa'ada hotel. They later moved us to another government building.

What made Houthis do this and do you know who sent the letter?

We don't know; however, they told us that we profaned the land, despite the fact that we're Yemenis and our values are Yemeni. We used to hear about the one who sent the letter, but we only knew him when he brought it.

You're accused of trading in alcohol?

This isn't true. We lived there for a long time and [Houthis] used to say this in order to increase enmity against us.

Did you have problems like this in the past?

No, this is the first time, as we didn't experience anything before.

Are there any Jews left in Al-Salim and what about your property there?

No one is there, lest Houthis implement their threats. We couldn't take anything, except what we could manage to carry.

Did you try to negotiate with Houthis or meet with them?

No, we can't do anything. Because we're unarmed, we couldn't face them. The state and President Ali Abdullah Saleh are on our side.

If you had remained there, what would have happened?

Allah saved us, but if we had remained there, for sure, they would have killed us.

Did you decide for yourselves to remain in Sa'ada or did someone tell you to remain there?

When we arrived in Sa'ada, the authorities told us to remain there, hoping for a quick end to the war; however, when the war intensified, the state moved us to Sana'a for fear Houthis would infiltrate and kill us if we stayed in Sa'ada.

You said you stayed in a Sa'ada hotel. Who paid for that?

The hotel rent was paid by some pro-state sheikhs.

What was your life like during the previous Sa'ada wars?

We used to live like brothers, sharing the same environment and life with our Muslim neighbors. We also used to chew qat together. There were no problems between us and them; however, Houthis came before the fourth war and told us to leave, so we did.

Did your Muslim neighbors stand by you?

Our Muslim neighbors stood by us because we're friends; however, the matter was beyond their capacity.

How long have you been away from your home?

I don't remember exactly, but perhaps more than three months.

Following your arrival in Sana'a, what was provided for you?

Under direct orders from President Saleh, the state gave each family an apartment and provided us with everything.

What about money?

Each individual is given YR 5,000, but this sum isn't enough.

How do you spend your time?

We usually go out or shopping and we sometimes sit together and chew qat.

Why didn't you go to Israel?

Because Yemen is my homeland. You're Yemeni, so you know the feelings of those who leave their country. My father traveled to Israel but returned after three months because he was uncomfortable there. Israel is Zionist and you know the difference between Zionist and Jew.

Were you offered to go to Israel?

Yes, but we don't want to go there. My cousin traveled to Israel 12 years ago and told me that life is difficult and there's difference between Yemenis and Zionists.

How are you treated regarding rights, employment and voting?

We're treated like Muslims. As for jobs, we don't care [about government employment] because we prefer private enterprise jobs. Regarding voting, no one is forced and participation is open to all.

What do you think about the current Sa'ada war?

May Allah save us and thwart the Houthis, who drove us from our land. We hope the war will end soon.