The Houthi rebel group in Yemen has expelled most of the last remaining Yemenite Jews from Sanaa, the country’s largest city.
With the departure of the 13 Jews from Yemen, all that is left are four elderly community members. According to a report in Asharq Al-Awsat, the deported Jews declined to immigrate to Israel. They are waiting for the UN refugee agency to find a country that will grand them asylum.
The departure of most of the remainder of the ancient community came as part of a deal with the Houthis to free Levi Salem Marhabi, a Jew who was jailed by the insurgency group six years ago. Reports state that Marhabi was treated very harshly in prison and became partially paralyzed after suffering a stroke.
One report said he was thrown into prison for helping a Jewish family relocate out of the country an 800-year old Torah scroll made out of deerskin when 17 Yemenite Jews left for Israel in 2016, aided by the Jewish Agency.
After they arrived in Israel, they met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and presented the scroll to him. Photos of the meeting were seen by the Houthis who became enraged, claiming the scroll was illegally removed from Yemen.
The Iranian proxy group has been exerting pressure on the last Yemenite Jews since the start of the conflict in 2014.
The Houthis have forced Jews to flee not only Sanaa but also Said and Amran. The last of the Yemenite community has been aided in leaving the war-torn nation in two other recent operations.
“They gave us a choice between staying in the midst of harassment and keeping Salem a prisoner or leaving and having him released,” stated one of the Jews who fled, according to Asharq Al-Awsat. “History will remember us as the last of Yemeni Jews who were still clinging to their homeland until the last moment."
According to Al-Monitor, in January a group of Yemenite Jews were allowed to leave the country for the United Arab Emirates, where they met family members currently living in the U.K.
In November 2020, American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement on Marhabi’s detention.
“The United States stands with the Yemeni Jewish community in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Levi Salem Musa Marhabi. Mr. Marhabi has been wrongfully detained by the Houthi militia for four years, despite a court ordering his release in September 2019. Mr. Marhabi is one member of an ever-shrinking community of Yemeni Jews, who have been an important part of Yemen’s diverse social fabric for thousands of years. We call on the Houthis to respect religious freedom, stop oppressing Yemen’s Jewish population, and immediately release Levi Salem Musa Marhabi.’’