Yemeni Jews in Israel retain Yemeni customs [Archives:2007/1062/Reportage]

June 25 2007

Mohammed bin Sallam
This article is not about the Jewish emigration during the 1940s and 1950s; rather, it is about those who immigrated during the 1980s and continue to do so up until today.

Former Yemeni President Ibrahim Al-Hamdi assured that all Yemeni immigrants, including those who immigrate to Israel, have the right to dual nationality according to the Yemeni Constitution. Official statistics reveal that there are 54,000 Yemeni Jews in Israel. Al-Hamdi later requested they return to Yemen, promising them full rights and duties, as is the case with Yemeni Muslims.

Under Al-Hamdi, Jews numbered more than 20,000; however, this number decreased following his tragic assassination, as many Jewish, Israeli and American organizations hastened to deport them to Israel with the help of Yemeni mediators. Only around 1,000 remained in Yemen, mostly children and elderly people.

Unofficial sources assert that Jews of Yemeni origin comprise 10 percent of Israel's population, or approximately 600,000. Further, more than 12,000 Yemeni Jews reside in the United States and approximately 15,000 in Canada and the U.K.

The question is: Do some or all of them have the right to dual nationality, as is the case with most Yemeni expatriates worldwide?

Yahya Al-Marhabi immigrated to Israel seven years ago with his wife and children, leaving behind his elderly father and more than 10 brothers and sisters. In his early 30s, Al-Marhabi is married with two sons and three daughters and living in a house in Beir Al-Saba', where most Yemeni Jews live.

He explained, “I came to visit my father, mother and brothers who live in Sana'a and Amran. My father came from Sa'ada governorate several months ago to escape the ongoing war there.”

Both in his name and on behalf of all Yemeni Jews, Al-Marhabi thanked President Ali Abdullah Saleh for his attitude toward his family and all Jews dispelled from Sa'ada, commenting that such attitude was welcomed warmly by Yemeni Jews both in Israel and across the globe.

“President Saleh offered them suitable housing in the capital and provided them secure and comfortable conditions, together with food, clothing and medical services,” he explained, “He also offered classes for boy and girls to study and made them feel that he is a real father to all Yemenis, regardless of their religion or race.”

He added that Saleh's sympathetic attitude toward Yemeni Jews prompted thousands of Yemeni Jews in Israel to display his photo and the Yemeni flag inside their homes in respect.

“Jews feel comfortable under President Saleh's generous sponsorship. We come here to visit our families and we feel secure, receiving both welcome and care. We are Yemenis and we take pride in being so,” Al-Marhabi declared, “Wherever we are, we long for our homeland because it's impossible to forget where you were born.”

He added that he visits Yemen once or twice a year, noting that he enjoys every visit.

Regarding whether his family will return to Sa'ada, Al-Marhabi points out that it would be difficult for them to return there, but they may do so once the situation improves because unless the state provides them permanent housing and employment, they can't remain in Sana'a forever, as they have no fixed income.

“While Yemenis in Israel lead a comfortable life, they long for their homeland. All Yemenis there, especially those who left in 1948, wish to visit their cities and villages. However, the problem remains that they don't have Yemeni passports or identity cards because they had no identity cards upon their departure; thus, they live in endless sadness,” Al-Marhabi lamented.

He added that most display Yemeni flags and photos of President Saleh inside their homes and all watch the Sana'a satellite television channel in order to follow events in their homeland.

He further asserts that they maintain close relations with one another, assembling during weddings, celebrations or religious occasions, in addition to visiting each other during hardships or when someone is ill.

Moreover, Yemeni Jews gather for qat sessions in Israel and some plant it around their homes. They maintain Yemeni customs and traditions, including dancing to the mizmar and drums as they did in Yemen. The only thing that has changed is their dress; however, even those born in Israel take pride in being of Yemeni origin.

Responding to a question about treatment by Yemeni airport authorities, Al-Marhabi answered, “We are Yemenis and we enjoy all of the rights guaranteed in the Yemeni Constitution. We are treated like all Yemenis and we don't encounter any discrimination.”

He concluded by hoping that he can meet President Saleh, as well as build a house in Sana'a where he can meet with all of his family members during his visits.