Yemeni Jews transferred to Israel in 'covert operation'

Yemeni Jews transferred to Israel in 'covert operation'
2 min read
22 March, 2016
Nineteen Yemeni Jews have been transferred from their country to Israel in a 'covert operation' that has raised many questions about who facilitated the operation.
The Yemeni Jews crossed three countries to reach Israel [AFP]

Nineteen Yemeni Jews have been transferred out of their country to Israel in a "covert operation" officials said Monday.

The operation almost brings to an end the presence of the Jewish community in Yemen, which once numbered around 60,000 people and dates back some 2,000 years.

Only 50 or so Jews now remain, with most living in a protected compound adjacent to the US embassy in Sanaa.

"Nineteen individuals arrived in Israel in recent days, including 14 from the town of Raydah and a family of five from Sanaa," the Jewish Agency, responsible for transfer said in a statement.

"The group from Raydah included the community's rabbi, who brought a Torah scroll believed to be between 500 and 600 years old."

Rabbi Salman Dahari told reporters the scroll had been passed down in his family.

"I got it from my father who was also a rabbi who inherited it from my grandfather, another rabbi," he said in the desert city of Beersheba in southern Israel, where the group will stay initially.

The Yemeni capital and the town of Raydah to its north are both controlled by Houthi rebel who are battling loyalists of the internationally recognised government and its supporters in a Saudi-led coalition.

The agency declined to provide details of the operation, but a spokesman said it took several months to prepare.

Seventeen of those brought to Israel arrived on Sunday night. The other two arrived over the preceding days.

"We are really tired. We crossed three countries," Dahari said, before being interrupted by an agency official telling him not to elaborate on the details of the journey.

Yemenis have raised questions about how the operation took place and which actors on the ground assisted the Jewish Agency in its transfer of the Yemeni Jews.

On Monday evening the group was taken to Jerusalem to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pose for pictures with the unrolled yellowed Torah scroll.

The Jewish Agency says that more than 51,000 Yemenite Jews have "immigrated" to Israel since the country was founded in 1948.

Nearly 50,000 were brought over in 1949 and 1950 in a secret airlift known as Operation Magic Carpet.

The Jewish community in Yemen continued to dwindle in subsequent decades, and by the early 1990s it numbered only around 1,000 people.

Since 2007, authorities in Yemen have moved members of the minority community from the northern province of Saada to the safe compound in Sanaa.

Elsewhere in the Muslim world, Iran, Morocco and Tunisia still boast significant Jewish communities.