Yemenite Jews Arrive in Israel in Secret Operation, Concluding 'Historic Mission'

More than 51,000 Yemenite Jews have immigrated to Israel since 1949. The 17 who arrived Sunday mark the end of the organized efforts to bring them to Israel.

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The final group of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrives in Israel accompanied by an ancient Torah scroll, March 20, 2016.
The final group of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrives in Israel accompanied by an ancient Torah scroll, March 20, 2016.Credit: Arielle Di-Porto / The Jewish Agency for Israel

Many of Yemen's last remaining Jews were whisked out of the country on Sunday in a covert operation overseen by the Jewish Agency. The group comprised of 19 individuals – 14 from the town of Raydah, and a family of five from Sanaa.

The operation, which was carried out in coordination with the Foreign Ministry, the U.S. State Department, and other government bodies, concludes an extended period of organized immigration from Yemen that began in 1949. Over the past several years, as the civil war there has intensified and threatened its tiny Jewish community, roughly 200 Yemenite Jews have been airlifted to Israel secretly.

“This is a highly significant moment in the history of Israel and of aliyah,” said Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky in a statement. “From Operation Magic Carpet in 1949 until the present day, The Jewish Agency has helped bring Yemenite Jewry home to Israel. Today we bring that historic mission to a close.”

Jewish Agency Spokesman Yigal Palmor told Haaretz that 12 individuals came from the city of Raydah and the other five from Sanaa. The members of the group are the last Jews in Yemen who have expressed the desire to immigrate to Israel in light of the raging war in Yemen.

A Torah scroll brought from Yemen, believed to be more than 500 years old.Credit: Arielle Di-Porto / The Jewish Agency for Israel.

The operation was carried out in secret due to the unstable security situation in Yemen, growing anti-Semitism and hostility against Jews and logistical difficulties. The Jewish Agency therefore needed the help of the U.S. State Department, which has also assisted in previous immigration operations.

The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa was closed due to the war in Yemen and so the U.S. State Department had to ask officials in Yemen and the region to securely organize the group for departure through neighboring countries.

The group from Raydah included the local rabbi, who brought with him a Torah scroll believed to be more than 500 years old. The father of the family that arrived from Sanaa is the son of Aharon Zindani, a Yemenite Jew killed in an anti-Semitic attack in 2012. The Jewish Agency had arranged at the time for Zindani’s remains to be brought to Israel for burial. His wife and other children were brought to Israel then as well.

After arriving in Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday, the rabbi and the other members of the group were taken to an immigrant absorption center in Be'er Sheva and were reunited with family members.

The Jewish Agency said that 50 Jews, the vast majority in Sanaa, chose to remain in Yemen where they live in a closed compound adjacent to the U.S. embassy and enjoy the protection of the authorities. No Jewish communal services, however, will be available to them any longer. Should they reconsider, the Jewish Agency said it would help bring them to Israel.

More than 51,000 Yemenite Jews have immigrated to Israel since the state was created in 1948. The majority of the community—nearly 50,000 individuals in total— were brought in 1949 and 1950 in what came to be known as Operation Magic Carpet.

The Jews of Yemen have felt increasingly threatened since 2008, when a local teacher, Moshe Ya’ish Nahari, was murdered in Raydah. In 2012, along with the murder of Zindani, a young Jewish woman from Sanna was abducted, forced to convert to Islam and wed against her will to a Muslim.

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