Jews in Yemen now living in fear

Hand grenade attack in Jewish neighbourhood days after a teacher was murdered has the community demanding better state protection.

Unidentified Yemeni Jews and Muslims talk at the village of Kharef, 50 miles, 80 kilometers, north of the capital San'a, Yemen, Monday, Dec. 15, 2008. Muslim extremists in this northern Yemeni town are still harassing the small Jewish community after one of its members was gunned down last week, a local rabbi said on Sunday. (AP Photo/Mohammed al-Qadhi) *** Local Caption ***  CAI103_Mideast_Yemen_Jews.jpg
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SANA'A // A hand-grenade attack early yesterday morning in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood outside Yemen's capital has shaken the population, coming just four days after a Jewish teacher was murdered in broad daylight. "I heard a strong explosion that shook our houses while we were sleeping," said Saeed Israel Jacob. "Somebody threw a hand grenade at our houses and ran away." Mr Jacob said everybody in Kharef district in the Amman governorate, 80km north of Sana'a, was afraid, but they did not know who was responsible for the attack. Police said they were looking into the incident and would act on the Jewish community's suggestion. "We respect the Jews in Kharef. They are Yemeni citizens and receive equal treatment like Muslims. They are under the protection of the state and such attacks are incidental," said Major Nabit Ali al Mahdi, the deputy security director for Kharef district. Maj al Mahdi said there had been other reports of harassment of Jews and that two people had already been arrested in those cases. However, Masha Yahia, said the response of the police to reports of attacks was inadequate. "My house was attacked with hand grenades some time ago. I reported that to the police but no action was taken. We are facing a lot of problems and we demand the protection of the state," he said. Monday's attack came four days after the murder of Moshe Yaish Josef Nahari, a teacher, in the nearby village of Raydah, the main stronghold for the remaining Yemeni Jews. In that case police have arrested, Abdul Aziz Hamoud Al Abdi, a former military pilot in his forties, who is expected to appear in court soon. According to Ahmed Yahia al Srihi, the deputy director of security in Ammran, Mr al Abdi has confessed to killing Nahar, which, he said, would bring him closer to God. Mr al Srihi said the suspect had also killed his own wife and described him as having "extremist tendencies". Mr al Abdi was removed from the military some years ago due to psychological problems. Nahari, the main provider for his nine children and blind father, was gunned down in Rydah's market on Thursday. Yaish bin Yusuf, the father, said his son's body would not be buried until "the killer" is sentenced to death. "Now the case is at the hand of the president and the governor. We will not bury Moshe until the judgment of God is fulfilled, until his killer is buried with him," Mr Yusuf said. "We used to live in peace, but since Thursday, we no longer feel secure in Rydah, we are frightened. We did not know the killer before; they say he is crazy. Why is he allowed to carry a gun if he is crazy?" Mr Yusuf said he had heard of Jews receiving death threats. However, some Muslim residents of Rydah and Kharef, where about 400 Jews live, said members of the Jewish community were well treated in their villages where both faiths coexist peacefully. "We have good relations with the Jews here. They are even better treated than Muslims; they get facilities and are able to travel around and outside without trouble," said Khalid Bu Zaid, who lives in Rydah. Last year, 65 Jews living in the northern governorate of Sa'ada were forced by supporters of al Houthi rebels to leave the area. The remaining Jewish community in Sa'ada was then moved to Sana'a after they were told to convert to Islam or leave. "It is impossible for us to go back to Sa'ada where we were always under threat and suffered harassment. The supporters of al Houthi took our properties, including my car," said Rabi Yahia Yusuf. Mr Yusuf and 64 other Jews now live in the capital of Sana'a where they receive support from the government. However, Mr Yusuf said the monthly sum of US$25 (Dh91.8) was barely enough to survive on. "We thank the president for his support but the money we get is not enough. I spend it on medicine for my father. "We appeal to the president to provide us with shops where we can exercise our crafts and work for our families," he said. Yemen was once home to about 50,000 Jews in the early 1950s, but most migrated to Israel. They had gained a reputation for intricate silver and gold jewellery and their decorative swords and knives. Jews for the most part have found Muslim Yemenis tolerant and lived in harmony with their neighbours. They have preserved their tradition as well as religious conventions with freedom. They have now two schools in Rydah to teach Hebrew and Judaism.