Israel has brought in 19 of Yemen’s last remaining Jews from war-ravaged Yemen, an Israeli nonprofit group said Monday. Immigration officials described the step as the last clandestine operation to move members of a dwindling Jewish community dating back two millennia.
Over the last few days, 19 people arrived in Israel, including a man who doubled up as the rabbi and kosher butcher in the northern Yemeni town of Raydah, carrying a 500-year-old Torah scroll, according to the Jewish Agency.
The Jewish Agency would not unveil details of the secret mission, which it said was a “complex covert operation.” It named the mission “Miktze Teiman,” a Hebrew phrase taken from a biblical verse that roughly translates as “from the ends of Yemen.” Israeli Channel 2 TV said the U.S. State Department was involved, a report the Jewish Agency declined to comment on.
The sacred manuscript’s departure from Yemen marked the de facto end of a community that has lived alongside its Muslim neighbors for centuries, only to be driven out by a surge in fighting and political turmoil. The 50 remaining Jews in Yemen want to stay in the country, the agency said.
“This is a highly significant moment in the history of Israel,” said Natan Sharansky, the head of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky, said in a statement..”
After decades of airlifts of Yemeni Jews, the latest arrivals “brought the mission to its conclusion”, he added.
Yemeni Jews have complained of increasing harassment since the rebel Houthi movement – whose slogan is “Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, victory to Islam” – seized control of the capital Sanaa in 2014.
Israel, founded partly as a haven for survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, has organized waves of Jewish immigration including the mass transfer of most of Yemen’s then 40,000-strong Jewish community in 1949.
“From Operation Magic Carpet in 1949 until the present day, the Jewish Agency has helped bring Yemenite Jewry home to Israel,” Sharansky added. “Today we bring that historic mission to a close. This chapter in the history of one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities is coming to an end, but Yemenite Jewry’s unique, 2,000-year-old contribution to the Jewish people will continue in the State of Israel.”
Fresh fighting and political disarray has since driven many of the people who stayed behind out of their northern homelands.
The Agency statement said around 50 Jews had decided to stay, including at least 40 living in a compound near the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, under Yemeni government protection.
Some members of the deeply conservative Jewish community had voiced concern that life in Israel or elsewhere would be an affront to their traditional values.
Yemeni government aid to those driven from the north – an individual monthly stipend of $20 – stopped about six months ago and the group remaining behind faces eviction from the compound.
Other operations have transferred Jewish populations from Ethiopia and, more covertly, from Arab or Muslim states with which Israel has no formal relations.