Sa’ada sheikhs accused of threatening Jewish minorities [Archives:2007/1019/Front Page]

January 25 2007

By: Mohammed Bin Sallam
SANA'A, Jan. 24 ) An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed that his government is seriously discussing the issue of threats targeting the Jewish minority in Yemen, Yemeni Prime Minister Abdulqader Bajammal said Tuesday.

Bajammal added that his government rejects all threats against the Jewish minority by some Al-Salem sheikhs in Sa'ada. He stated in a Sana'a press conference attended by Jordan's Prime Minister that the state is responsible for protecting its citizens in order to maintain the social peace.

He added that religious forgiveness in Yemen is a historic matter and dates back several years. “We don't allow anyone to harm any of the Jewish citizens in Yemen. We strongly reject what happened to Jews in Sa'ada,” Bajammal noted, promising state protection for citizens, including the Jewish minority.

The nation's official response came after the Israeli government last Monday expressed its concern about the peace and safety of Jews in Yemen following media reports that many Yemeni Jews fled their homes after facing murder threats by armed Islamic organizations.

Media sources affirmed that the Israeli government is concerned about the safety of Al-Salem Jews and began making international calls inquiring about their situation and living conditions.

Other media sources mentioned last Monday that Sheikh Yahya Sa'ad Al-Khidhair, a staunch Al-Houthi supporter from Al-Salem tribe, aided by some of his tribesmen, forced seven Jewish families living in Sa'ada, which is located 245 km. north of Sana'a, to desert their homes. This is the first incident of its kind since the 16th century.

The same sources expressed that armed Al-Houthi supporters, who have been engaged in fierce clashes with government troops during the past three years and remain entrenched in rough places, forced the Jewish families to evacuate their homes. Members of these displaced families number 45 and include men, women and children.

However, several news web sites clarified earlier this week that a number of Jews living in Jarir village, part of Sa'ada's Al-Salem tribe, denied charges alleging that they had spread vice in the area.

Various media quoted the Yemeni Jews, who moved to Sa'ada city, as saying, “We fled to Sa'ada city to protect ourselves and our families, particularly after we received written warning demanding we leave our homes within 10 days.”

The Islah Party-affiliated Al-Sahwa net published a letter said to have been signed by Al-Khidhair on its web site and bearing the logo of Al-Houthi supporters. The letter read, “Following close monitoring and thorough observation of Jews over the past few days, it's clear that these Jews are behaving in a manner serving Zionism. They make people deviate from their religious principles and values and spread vice; however, our religion tells us to fight ill-mannered people and deport them.”

The threatening letter continued, “We warn you to leave our area immediately. You should bear in mind that no one in this life will help you, so you shouldn't ignore this letter. If we find you 10 days from now, you'll regret it.”

The letter concluded with Al-Houthi supporters' logo, “Allah is the greatest! Death to America! Death to Israel! The curse is on Jews and victory for Islam!”

One area local said the problem originated when a Jewish teenager recently arrived from Israel took photos of some tribal girls on farms with his personal camera, as well as in a village jointly inhabited by both Jews and Muslims. Muslims consider this a red line not to be crossed in any culture.

The Faithful Youth Organization founded by the slain Hussein Badraddin Al-Houthi denied government charges that it threatened the Jewish families and insisted they evacuate their Al-Salem area homes due to allegations of spreading vice.

Abdulmaliq Al-Houthi, the organization's military leader, said in a media statement that his fellow men didn't threaten the Jews; rather, the problem was caused by immoral acts and the Jews' beating of some area locals.

Member of Parliament Yahya Al-Houthi, the eldest son of Shi'ite clerk Badraddin Al-Houthi who currently lives in Germany, said his father's supporters have no relation to forcing the Yemeni Jews from their Al-Salem area village and he considers such media reports groundless and incorrect.

The MP added that Al-Khidhair, who is charged with expelling the Jewish families from their homes, doesn't represent all Al-Houthis.

“What happened to the Jewish minority is part of a government trick against Al-Houthi supporters,” he commented.

Media sources confirmed that a member of an Israeli immigration movement has been in Yemen for awhile and exercising immoral activities in the Yemeni Jewish community, where the majority of Jews have no desire to immigrate to Israel.

Political analysts connect the problem with forcing the Jews to evacuate their homes; however, they didn't rule out that this is part of a deal to compel Yemeni Jews to leave the country. Such observers expressed curiosity about accommodating the Jewish families in a Sa'ada hotel devoted to accommodating only those Jews who are prepared to leave Yemen.

They warn against exploiting the current situation to force the remaining Jewish families to leave Yemen. Official media considered the good relations between Al-Houthi and Yemeni Jewish citizens as a charge before the first war in 2004. The number of Yemeni Jews has declined from tens of thousands in 1978 to approximately 1,000 currently and they have no access to good quality education or health care.