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Secret Mission to Bring Yemenite Jews to Israel, 2009

On This Day in Jewish History: February 19, 2009

On this day, 2009, some of the last of the remaining Jews in Yemen were covertly airlifted to Israel. The Jewish Agency and the Mossad had secretly brought Yemenite Jews to Israel since 1945 as an emergency response to the sharp rise in levels of antisemitism in Yemen and other parts of the Middle East. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries such as Yemen have violently targeted Jewish communities, with some 900,000 Jews being forcibly expelled from 1948 to the early 1970s. Many of the Yemenite Jews expelled were ordered to reside in deserted and barren regions such as Mawza, where most died of hunger, thirst, and the harsh weather conditions of the place. The Jews who had remained in the Yemenite towns of Sana’a and Raida led an arduous life inflicted by ghastly and horrendous hate-crimes. Yemenite Jews in Sana’a live under house arrests ordered by the Iranian-backed, occupying Houthi militant group. In Raida, abductions of Jewish Yemenite women and stabbings of Jewish men is common-place. Today, despite the perpetuation of antisemitic hate crimes towards Yemen’s Jews, 50 or so Jews remain in Raida and one family remains in Sana’a. Although the Israeli government has been pushing this population to emigrate, many are reluctant to leave behind the everlasting and profound mark of the Jewish community in Yemen, a community so ancient it has preceded Yemen’s Muslim inhabitant communities by several hundred years. Yemenite Jews are also reluctant to emigrate to Israel due to cultural reasons. Most of these Jews, who had lived for centuries in Yemen, fear losing their established cultural traditions and practices to assimilation in Israel. This fear has been reinforced by reports from returnees criticizing Israel for being culturally-alien. Jews remaining in Yemen therefore require an environment more similar to the traditional Middle Eastern life they had been accustomed to. Luckily, with diplomatic relations strengthened between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in September 2020, the Yemenite Jews are now able to seek refuge in the UAE.

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