ICC NOTE: Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war for the past few years, pitting rebels against Islamic extremist forces. Throw in support from Iran and the landscape becomes yet another Middle East nation likely to be reduced to rubble, leaving innocent people and religious minorities under it. However, for Yemen’s small Jewish population this has not been the case as most of the remaining population which has called Yemen home for an estimated 2,300 years has fled to Israel. Some remain in Yemen but the majority has found solace among their families in Israel as the Israeli government worked covertly to rescue them from the civil war. Just as it has been in Iraq and Syria for religious minorities, the Jewish community in Yemen could have faced similar dangers if they remained any longer. The remaining few dozen have found refuge in the rebel held town of Sana’a within a government compound.
3/22/2016 Yemen/Israel (CNN) – The flight landed in Israel in the dead of night. Its origin was a secret. So were its passengers. Only well after the plane touched down at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport and the passengers disembarked and made their way to their temporary home did the secret come out.
Seventeen Yemenite Jews were onboard, some of the last of Yemen’s dwindling Jewish population escaping the war-torn country. They arrived under cover of darkness, wearing their traditional headscarves and speaking their native Arabic.
They boarded buses to the immigration center in Be’er Sheva in southern Israel, where family members who had already moved to Israel greeted them with a shower of hugs and kisses.
Sulaiman al-Dahari came with his family. His brothers and sisters. His children. His mother. The family lived far away from the civil war, Dahari said, but they escaped Yemen’s crumbling economy.
Dozens killed in airstrike in Yemen
“The situation there is mixed between fear and poverty. The economic situation is bad. I feel comfortable here in Israel,” Dahari said. Even though he feels at home, he promised his journey has not ended.
“Of course, I will get back to Yemen, because my family and I love Yemen.”
Tiny population grows even smaller
Dahari’s family left a country that has become increasingly hostile to the small Jewish population in Yemen. Sectarian violence has torn the Gulf nation apart, and the country’s Jewish population has fallen from a few hundred to a few dozen in recent years, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, which tracks immigration to Israel.
Most of the remaining Jews live in a guarded government compound in the heart of rebel-held Sana’a.
“Now it is very, very hard. Very dangerous for them,” said Zera Dehari, who left Yemen for the United States years ago. His cousins were among the latest group to leave Yemen. He flew to Israel to meet them.
“They’re telling me it’s very hard for them in Yemen now. It’s not so easy. They can’t even sell their houses, so now they are here,” Dehari said. “Thank God.”
Their journey took them through neighboring countries, said Israeli Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara.
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The covert operation to bring them to Israel involved the Prime Minister’s Office, the Jewish Agency for Israel and others, he said, including the U.S. State Department. Israel doesn’t have full diplomatic relations with any of the Gulf nations, and bringing the immigrants from Yemen to Israel posed a logistical and security challenge.