Yemeni Jews move to Israel after attacks

Fear grips Yemen's Jewish minority after murder


Ten Yemeni Jews moved to Israel on Thursday after a murder and a series of attacks sparked fear among their small community.

Among the new immigrants who landed at Ben Gurion international airport was Said Ben Yisrael, who heads the Jewish community in Raydah, which is home to all but 50 of the Jews who live in Yemen.

Eight members of his family were also among the new arrivals, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, a semi-governmental organisation which organised their trip jointly with the Yemenite Jewish Federation of America.

Several weeks ago, extremists threw a grenade into Yisrael's courtyard. Following further threats on his life, he left Raydah with his wife and seven children to live in the capital Sanaa.

Fear grips community

Fearful members of the small Jewish community of Raydah in northern Yemen have closed their three synagogues and two schools, and avoid public places after a man who refused to convert was murdered.

The 260 Jews who stayed on in the area when their co-religionists emigrated to Israel by the thousands used to coexist comfortably with their Muslim neighbors.

But on Dec. 11, Masha Yaish al-Nahari, a father of nine who taught Hebrew at one of the community's two schools, was gunned down by a Muslim who accosted him near his home demanding that he convert to Islam.

The suspect, Abdul Aziz Yahya al-Abdi, 39, who has repeatedly confessed to the murder in court saying he had warned the town's Jews to leave or convert if they wanted to stay alive, faces a possible death sentence if convicted when the trial wraps up on March 2.

Receiving murder threats

Jewish neighbors of the victim attended two earlier hearings in the trial but they stayed away from a new hearing this week after receiving death threats from Abdi's Muslim clansmen from the powerful Kharef tribe, community leader Yahya Yaish said.

The only Jewish people present for Monday's session were the victim's father and widow, as Abdi's clansmen packed the courtroom, many wearing traditional curved daggers on their belts, to support the man in the dock.

"In the past, we lived in security, but now, we are all afraid," the victim's father Yaeish al-Nahari told AFP at his home in Raydah, a large dusty agricultural town swept by the wind.

Naharim who is in his 60s, said that he considers himself Yemeni first and Jewish second, but that he is desperate to leave as soon as he can sell his house and doesn't mind where he goes.

"The president supports us. We are under his protection," Nahari said.

"But if the government does not protect us, we will go to Israel," he said, adding that three of his five daughters have already emigrated there.

The president supports us. We are under his protection. But if the government does not protect us, we will go to Israel

Yaeish al-Nahari , the father of the victim

Gaza war inflames animosity towards jews

The Raydah Jews are not the first of Yemen's dwindling number of Jewish communities to take flight from their Muslim neighbors in recent years.

In early 2007, the even smaller community in al-Salem district, in the far northern mountains near the Saudi border, fled their homes in the face of an armed uprising seeking the restoration of the Zaidi imamate that ruled Yemen until a republican coup in 1962.

A total of 49 people from nine families sought the protection of government troops, first in the provincial capital Saada and then in the capital Sanaa where they continue to live in tightly guarded accommodation provided by the government.

Israel's deadly three-week offensive against Gaza in December and January has further inflamed Muslim animosity towards the country's tiny Jewish minority.

"What happens in Palestine creates hatred in the Islamic world," said Khaled al-Anesi, the Nahari family's lawyer. "After Gaza, the hatred is even bigger."

What happens in Palestine creates hatred in the Islamic world. After Gaza, the hatred is even bigger

Khaled al-Anesi, the lawyer of Nahari family

"They are Yemenis"

One of the suspected murderer's fellow tribesmen, Samir al-Mattari, agreed. "They have every reason to be afraid, especially after what happened in Gaza," he said, swiftly adding that he did not personally hold his Jewish compatriots responsible for Israel's actions.

"They are our neighbors. They are Yemenis. They should stay," he said.

But community leader Yaish said the climate of fear was now such that Jews were hiding their religion when they went out to shop and were avoiding all public places or gatherings.

"We have received death threats on the phone, in the street, in the courtroom," he said.

We have received death threats on the phone, in the street, in the courtroom

Yaeish al-Nahari, victim\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s father