Jews in north fear for their lives

Members of the Jewish community in Amran Governorate, northern Yemen, say they fear being attacked by Muslim extremists, after Moshe Yaish Josef Nahari, a Jewish teacher, was gunned down on 11 December in Raydah District.

"We really live in fear. We fear for our lives. We are mistreated by some Muslims who are demanding that we convert to Islam or leave the area," said a Jewish community leader who preferred anonymity.

He told IRIN that the more than 250 Jews in Raydah District were unable to lead a normal life and many had stopped work after receiving death threats. Many Jewish men worked as silversmiths or carpenters.

"We now stay at home, and our life has become chaotic and unsafe. How can we live this way?" he asked.

According to him, the Jews are demanding to be moved from Amran Governorate to a safe city such as Sanaa, Ibb or Taiz, "where people are educated and men do not carry guns". However, they do not want to be relocated hastily: They fear losing their property, as happened to the Jews of Saada in 2007.

Photo: Muhammed al-Jabri/IRIN
Tribesmen carrying their guns in Raydah District

On 16 September, President Ali Abdullah Saleh met Jewish community leaders and suggested the Jews move from Amran to Sanaa city, and that each family be granted a small piece of land in the city.

"But how can we leave our homes, businesses and land and come to Sanaa? There was no talk of financial assistance. We were told to sell our property and come to live in Sanaa," said the Jewish leader.


Four days after the killing of Nahari, a grenade was thrown at the house of a Jewish man in Raydah, further raising fears. The authorities have not managed to identify the perpetrators.

On 20 December, Abdul-Aziz al-Abdi, a 39 year-old former military pilot, confessed in court to killing the Jewish teacher in order "to get closer to God".

He said he had warned the Jews a month ago to convert to Islam or leave the area, and that he had informed the authorities six months ago about his intention to commit a crime if the Jews were not deported. "The Jews are creating problems and worries in the country and have relations with Britain and Tel Aviv," he said.

Relatives of al-Abdi said he had psychological problems and had killed his wife a few years ago, prompting Nahari's relatives to ask how it was he had been allowed to carry a gun in such circumstances.

Photo: Google Maps
A map of Yemen highlighting Saada and Amran provinces

The victim's sister, Malakah, told IRIN that going to court without protection was dangerous as al-Abdi's relatives "carried guns".

"We had to take a detour to reach the court. The al-Abdi family threatened us, saying they would not allow any Jew to live safely, and would kidnap Jewish women. If their relative was executed, they would kill 20 Jews," she said.

According to her, Nahari had nine children and was the family bread-winner.

The Jewish minority in Amran Governorate has been there for centuries, though thousands left for Israel in or after 1948.

Currently some 270 Jews live in Amran Governorate, all in Raydah District - a district well-known for its gun markets and where carrying a gun is considered normal.

In early 2007, scores of Jews in Saada Governorate, northern Yemen, received death threats from Shia rebels and were moved to Sanaa city.