|JUEUS AL IEMEN|
De la mà del llibre From Time Immemorial, de Joan Peters:
The entire Yemenite community of Jews, who swarmed almost 50,000 strong into Israel via “operation Magic Carpet,” believed that “king David” Ben-Gurion was actually the Messiah calling them home. Jewish settlements in Yemen existed more than 2,000 years ago, and some claim the Jews’ presence there has been longer –from the Jews’ Babylonian captivity and the fall of the First Temple in 586 B.C. Yemenite Jewry fled to Israel from what historians S.D. Goitein described as “the worst aspect” of the Arab mistreatment of Jews. A Yemenite law decreed that fatherless Jewish children under thirteen be taken from their mothers and raised in Muslim homes ad Muslims.
“Children were torn away from their mothers,” according to Goitein. Despite attempts of family and friends to adopt the children secretly, “very often the efforts... were not successful... To my mind, this law, which was enforced with new vigor about fifty years ago, more than anything else impelled the Yemenite Jews to quit that country to which they very much attached... The result was that many families arrived in Israel with one or more of their children lost to them... some widows... [were] bereaved in this way of all their offspring.”
Persecution was constant and extreme –stoning Jews, an “age-old” custom, according to “an old doctor of Muslim law.” Was still common tradition at the time of the 1948 exodus –although the bearability of life throughout the centuries of Muslim domination often depended upon whether the rule was Turkish or Arab.
The Yemenite Jews’ situation changed drastically for the worse in the seventh century, with the Arab conquest. After the Jews ho lived in what is now part of Saudi Arabia were either expelled by the Prophet Muhammad or obliterated, Jewish communities in the rest of the conquered Muslim territory fell under the new infidel statut. The Jews of Yemen were subjected to the severest possible interpretation of the Charter of Omar, plus carefully devised brutal improvisations on the dhimmi theme. For about four centuries, the Jewish suffered under the fierce fanatical edict of the most intolerant of all Islamic sects.
In the twelfth century the conditions were so punishing, and formerly repugnant forced conversion to Islam was so eagerly sought by terrified Jews, that the “Great Rambam” –the venerated Rabbi Moses Maimonides- was prompted to write the famous “Yemen Epistle”, in which he commiserated with Yemen’s Jewry and besought them to keep the faith.
The eighteenth century was one of almost unbearable burden, bringing the1724 famine, in addition to insidiously varied humiliations and violence. Fanatical rulers ordered synagogues destroyed and public prayers were forbidden. Many thousands attempted to follow “false messiah” Shabbetai Zevi on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but they were attacked on the way, and the Chief Rabbi of San’a was “tortured to death.”
One overlord decide to rid the Arabian peninsula of Jews by offering them a choice of religious conversion or banishment; the overwhelming number chose to leave the capitals and head for the Red Sea coast. Those who had not died of starvation, thirst, or illnes during the torturous journey –for many, on foot- were allowed to settle in a town called Mauza’, where more casualties were caused by the cruelties of the climate. The Jews’ exile at Mauza’ was terminated by decree in 1781, according to one report, because the exiled Jews had been the only craftsmen in the country and their work was keenly missed.
The latter eighteen century, with its more tolerant ruler, allowed Yemen’s Jews brief respite from both hunger and humiliation. One Jew was even accorded an official position as Minister of Currency –he was imprisoned for two years by his ruler, however, after many years of prominence.
A visit was paid to Yemen in 1762 by a Danish-German explorer who described life in the Jewish ghetto under the “improved” circumstances of the eighteenth century:
Completely shut off from the city of San’a is the Jewish village... where 2.000 Jews life in great contempt. Nevertheless they are the best artisans, potters, goldsmiths, engraves, minters and others. By day they work in their shops in San’a, but by night they must withdraw to their isolated dwellings... Shortly before my arrival, twelve of the fourteen synagogues of the Jews were torn down, and all their beautiful houses wrecked...
Throughout the nineteenth century Jews were victims of hunger and of Arab attacks on the ghetto, which resulted in murder and pillage.
In the middle of the nineteenth century a writer from Jerusalem described the Yemenite Jews’ plight during the two years he lived with them:
The Jews who have been living in Yemen for many hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, are now in a position of inferiority, and are oppressed by a people which declares itself holy and pious but which is very brutal, barbarous and hard-hearted. The natives consider the Jew unclean, but his blood for them is not unclean. They lay claims to all his belongings, and if he is unwilling, they employ force... The Jews... live outside the town in dark dwellings like prison cells or caves out of fear for murderers and robbers. Whoever has any money or valuables conceals them in the earth or in such secrets holes as they have in their little houses so that nobody may see them...
It is particularly bad for the Jew if he is himself accused of a crime. There is then no mercy. For the least offense, he is sentenced to outrageous fines, which he is quiet unable to pay. In case of non-payment, he is put into chains and cruelly beaten every day. Before the punishment is inflicted, the Cadi addresses him in gentle tones and urges him to change his faith and obtain a share of all the glory of this world and of the world beyond. His refusal is again regarded as penal obstinacy. On the other hand, it is not open to the Jew to prosecute a Muslim, as the Muslim by right of law can dispose of the life and the property of the Jew, and it is only to be regarded as an act of magnanimity if the Jews are allowed to live. The Jew is not admissible as a witness, nor has his oath and validity.”
Beginning at the turn of the century, the Yemenite Jews ere even prohibited from fleeing the country to escape persecution. “Those who live in a country which discriminates against them most blatantly want to have, at least, one right to leave that country,” historian Goitien believes. But the Shi’ite Muslims in Yemen adhered to the “strictly inner Islamic legal basis” –that “a Jew, a ‘protected’ subject, was not allowed” into “enemy territory”- which o the Shi’ite meant any region ruled by non-Shi’ites. The few who managed to emigrate “had to leave everything behind,” and “for the great masses... the old prohibitions was a source of great suffering.”
In one town, however, the Jews became the center of a power struggle between two Arab tribes: as a result, the town’s ruler loosened Jewish restrictions to the extent that some Jews became wealthy and a few were allowed to have houses even higher that the Muslims’.
There have always been conflicting reports on the number of the Jews in Yemen, but because famine often struck the Yemenite Jews, death through starvation was “a common event.” (Thus, even though the birth rate was high and polygamy occurred among the Yemenite Jewish community, the rate of natural increase was kept down in Yemen, into the twentieth century.) One visitor wrote, “Nothing moves the Jewish traveler so much as the sight of many places where all of the Jewish inhabitants have been carried off by the last famine. The average rate of mortality is terrible.”
A teacher was sent from Beirut in 1910 to assess the constant reports of travail for the Yemenite Jews. He noted that, after
more than a week, I have made myself acquainted with the life of the Jews in all its phases... They are exceedingly unfortunate... If they are abused, they listen in silence as though they had not understood; if they are attacked by an Arab boy with stones, they flee.
There were some Yemenite Jews who fled on foot over the desert in pilgrimage to the Holy Land, particularly during the nineteenth century, and into the twentieth. One group of Jews decided to sell their possessions for half their worth, and a movement to the Holy Land commenced. “In 1912 alone, over 2,000 Yemenite Jews disembarked at Jaffa.” They kept embarking on the hazardous pilgrimage, even during World War II, and many had to disguise themselves as Arabs to avoid being intercepted and imprisoned. Often it was the Jewish children who unwittingly exposed the disguise –when the Arabs tested them by offering unkhoser food (not edible by Jewish Orthodox law).
As late as 1946, an American missionary reported that a Yemenite Jewish mother and son had been put into chains for accepting a ride in the American’s jeep.
Nearly 50,000 traditionally religious Yemenites, who had never seen a plane, were airlifted to Israel in 1949 and 1950. Since the Book of Isaiah promised, “They shall mount up with wings, as eagles,” the Jewish community boarded the “eagles” contentedly; to the pilot’s consternation some of them lit a bonfire aboard, to cook their food!
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From Time Immemorial, de Joan Peters
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From Time Immemorial, de Joan Peters
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