The Houthi 'Motto,' and My Limited Sympathy for War-Torn Yemen
“And humiliation and wretchedness were stamped upon them [the Jews] and they were visited with wrath from Allah. That was because they disbelieved in Allah’s revelations and slew the prophets wrongfully. That was for their disobedience and transgression.”—Koran 2:61
“The nation of Ishmael…persecute us severely and devise ways to harm us and to debase us…None has matched it in debasing and humiliating us. None has been able to reduce us as they have. We have done as our sages of blessed memory instructed us, bearing the lies and absurdities of Ishmael. We listen, but remain silent…In spite of all this, we are not spared from the ferocity of their wickedness, and their outbursts at any time. On the contrary, the more we suffer and choose to conciliate them, the more they choose to act belligerently toward us.” —Maimonides, Epistle to the Jews of Yemen (1172) [Stillman translation]
“Death to Israel. Curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam”—Houthi motto
Even my eye, jaundiced as it is from studying the chronic plight of Yemenite Jewry under Islam, is not blind, or fully inured to the daily, ongoing Sunni-Shiite sectarian carnage in Yemen. This is a human tragedy, amongst many similar examples within Islamdom, daily unfolding before our collective eyes.
Yet, animated by Islam’s Jew-hating canon, the ugly historical context that I have chronicled—Yemen’s Jews being subjected to a millennium of continuous, grinding Islamic persecution, interspersed with paroxysmal acts of mass Muslim violence—compelled me to recall two very recent, bitter reminders of this specific, living doctrinal, and historical legacy.
Shiite worshippers from Iran’s surrogate minions at the Houthi Al-Hashoush Mosque in Sanaa, Yemen, on March 20, 2015, were engaged in the following exchange just as they were immolated by an ISIS homicide bombing:
Preacher: “Our belief in Allah will increase after today. We will triumph over their deceit and their arrogance. Allah is with us…” Worshippers: “Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam. Allah Akbar.”
Six days after that ghoulish scene of depraved Islamic Jew-hatred, literally in the midst of internecine Muslim sectarian slaughter, Houthi official Khaled Al-Madani, of the Supreme Revolutionary Council, addressed thousands of supporters assembled outside Sanaa’s old city. Al-Madani’s Thursday, March 26, 2015 invective was directed principally against Saudi Arabia. He intoned, “The horn of Satan [i.e., Saudi Arabia] has hired mercenaries to attack Yemeni soil, but Yemen will become their graveyard.” And once again, these comments drew the same response from the gathered Shiite Muslim masses previously uttered by the Al-Hashoush Mosque attendees immediately before their immolation:
Allah Akbar. Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam.
A pathognomonic New York Times story from February 18, 2015, entitled, “Persecution Defines Life for Yemen’s Remaining Jews,” noted the ubiquity of this Shiite Muslim motto (i.e., Death to America. Death to Israel. Curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam), which:
... is chanted at all Houthi rallies, broadcast on television and painted on what seems like every blank wall space in areas they control.
Taking great umbrage at the sight of a Yemenite Jew accompanying the New York Times reporter, a local Shiite Muslim referred to his fellow human being as somehow “not” human, and “damned” by Allah. The Times reporter added that the vestigial remnant Jewish community—perhaps 70 souls between Raida, Yemen, and Sanaa, the capital, “where a small number live under what amounts to house arrest by the Houthi leadership” — indeed:
have more to fear than bad words. The encounter [above] in the souk took place a short distance from where a Yemeni Air Force pilot in 2008 accosted Moshe Yaish Nahari, the brother of a prominent rabbi and the father of eight children, as he stepped out of his home. The assailant coldly said, “Jew, here’s a message from Islam,” and then fatally shot Mr. Nahari, who was unarmed, five times with an assault rifle, according to Yemeni news accounts. The pilot was convicted and sentenced to death for murder, but Mr. Nahari’s family, pressured into accepting blood money from the killer’s tribe to spare his life, left Yemen as soon as possible. In the next few years, nearly all of Raida’s Jews followed.
Previous Houthi violence—death threats and Houthi jihadists burning down Jewish homes—was directed at the then 200, or fewer, Jews in Saada province, during 2006 to 2007. According to Yemenite Jew Salem Mousa, in 2006, he and his family fled because:
Houthis pursued us everywhere we went. Attacks and even forced conversions were common at that time.
In January 2007 reports indicated that residual Saada Jews were being forced to make apparent jizya payments (i.e., the Koranic poll-tax, per jihad verse 9:29, the “tax paid in lieu of being slain” by vanquished, surviving non-Muslims), had been falsely accused of selling wine to Muslims, and were threatened with further killings, abductions, and lootings. A letter delivered to the Jewish communal leader, believed to have been composed by disciples of the Yemenite Shiite cleric Hossein Bader a-Din al Khouty, stated:
Islam calls upon us to fight against the disseminators of decay…After accurate surveillance over the Jews [in Saada province]…it has become clear to us that they were doing things which serve mainly global Zionism, which seeks to corrupt the people and distance them from their principles, their values, their morals, and their religion.
More than eight centuries before Salem Mousa’s account of the 2006 Muslim depredations against the Jews of Yemen, including “attacks and even forced conversions,” Maimonides’ The Epistle to the Jews of Yemen was written in approximately 1172, as a response to inquiries by Jacob ben Netan’el al-Fayyumi, then leader of the Jewish community in Yemen. The Jews of Yemen were experiencing a crisis, as they were being forced to convert to Islam, an effort launched in about 1165 by Abd-al-Nabi ibn Mahdi. Maimonides offered al-Fayyumi and his flock what encouragement and guidance he could. The Epistle to the Jews of Yemen elucidates Maimonides’ views of Islam’s prophet Muhammad, whom he dubbed “the Madman,” and of Islam in general. Maimonides opined:
You write that the rebel leader in Yemen decreed compulsory apostasy for the Jews by forcing the Jewish inhabitants of all the places he had subdued to desert the Jewish religion just as the Berbers had compelled them to do in [the]Maghreb [i.e., Islamic West, during the brutal 12th century Berber Muslim Almohad persecutions Maimonides survived, which included mass killings, and forced conversions, in Spain and North Africa]. Verily, this news has broken our backs and has astounded and dumbfounded the whole of our community. And rightly so. For these are evil tidings, “and whosoever heareth of them, both his ears tingle” (1 Samuel 3:11). Indeed our hearts are weakened, our minds are confused, and the powers of the body wasted because of the dire misfortunes which brought religious persecutions upon us from the two ends of the world, the East and the West, “so that the enemies were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side” (Joshua 8:22).
Maimonides pointed out that such relentless persecutions of the Jews by the Muslims were tantamount to forced conversion:
[T]he continuous persecutions will cause many to drift away from our faith, to have misgivings, or to go astray, because they witnessed our feebleness, and noted the triumph of our adversaries and their dominion over us . . .
He continued: “After him arose the Madman [i.e., Muhammad] who emulated his precursor since he paved the way for him. But he added the further objective of procuring rule and submission, and he invented his well-known religion [i.e., Islam].” Many medieval Jewish writers commonly referred to Muhammad as “ha-meshugga,” Madman—the Hebrew term, as Norman Stillman noted, being “pregnant with connotations.”
Maimonides highlights one of the reasons for Muslim Jew-hatred:
Inasmuch as the Muslims could not find a single proof in the entire Bible nor a reference or possible allusion to their prophet which they could utilize, they were compelled to accuse us saying, “You have altered the text of the Torah, and expunged every trace of the name of Muhammad therefrom.” They could find nothing stronger than this ignominious argument.
He also notes the profundity of Muslim animus toward the Jews, and simultaneously, the Jewish predilection for denial, a tendency that he maintains will hasten their destruction:
Remember, my co-religionists, that on account of the vast number of our sins, God has hurled us in the midst of this people, the Arabs, who have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us, as Scripture has forewarned us, ‘Our enemies themselves shall judge us’ (Deuteronomy 32:31). Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase and hate us as much as they…Although we were dishonored by them beyond human endurance, and had to put with their fabrications, yet we behaved like him who is depicted by the inspired writer, “But I am as a deaf man, I hear not, and I am as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth” (Psalms 38:14). Similarly our sages instructed us to bear the prevarications and preposterousness of Ishmael in silence. They found a cryptic allusion for this attitude in the names of his sons “Mishma, Dumah, and Massa” (Genesis 25:14), which was interpreted to mean, “Listen, be silent, and endure” (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, ad locum). We have acquiesced, both old and young, to inure ourselves to humiliation, as Isaiah instructed us “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair” (50:6). All this notwithstanding, we do not escape this continued maltreatment which well nigh crushes us. No matter how much we suffer and elect to remain at peace with them, they stir up strife and sedition, as David predicted, “I am all peace, but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalms 120:7).
A salient modern manifestation of the denial Maimonides decried is the continued willful ignorance by the “Jewish intelligentsia” (and non-Muslim “intellectuals” as well) of Islam’s sacralized Jew-hatred, and the historical impact this doctrine had on Yemenite Jewry, in particular.
Haggai Ben-Shammai’s 1988 essay “Jew Hatred in the Islamic Tradition and Koranic Exegesis,” is a benchmark modern academic analysis of these otherwise broadly ignored motifs. Ben-Shammai riveted on a key illustration of Jew-hatred in the Koran (and Koranic exegesis): the “curse against the Jews” (in Koran 2:61, etc.). His analysis highlighted the centrality of the Jews’ “abasement and humiliation,” and being “laden with God’s anger” in the corpus of Muslim exegetic literature on Koran 2:61, including the hadith (i.e., traditions of Muhammad, and the early Muslim community), and Koranic commentaries. Despite the literal reference of 2:61 to the Israelites in the wilderness during their exodus from Egypt, he noted:
to all of the Muslim exegetes, without exception, it was absolutely clear that the reference was to the Jews of their day. The Arabic word translated as “pitched upon them” also means, literally, that the “abasement and poverty” were decreed for them forever. The “abasement” is the payment of the poll tax [jizya] and the humiliating ceremony involved. As for the “poverty,” this insured their remaining impoverished forever. There are traditions which attribute this interpretation to Muhammad himself.
Consider, for example the classical interpretation of Koran 2:61 by the great Muslim historian, and seminal Koranic commentator, al-Tabari (d. 923). Tabari’s gloss on Koran 2:61, as well as his explication of the related verse 9:29 mandating the Jews payment of the jizya (Koranic poll-tax), represent both Antisemitic and more general anti-dhimmi views. Here is Tabari’s discussion of 2:61 and its relationship to verse 9:29, which emphasizes the purposely debasing nature of the Koranic poll tax:
…“abasement and poverty were imposed and laid down upon them”, as when someone says “the imam imposed the poll tax (jizya)on free non-Muslim subjects”, or “The man imposed land tax on his slave”, meaning thereby that he obliged him [to pay ] it, or, “The commander imposed a sortie on his troops”, meaning he made it their duty.…God commanded His believing servants not to give them [i.e., the non-Muslim people of the scripture] security — as long as they continued to disbelieve in Him and his Messenger — unless they paid the poll tax to them; God said: “Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden — such men as practice not the religion of truth [Islam], being of those who have been given the Book [Bible] — until they pay the poll tax, being humble” (Koran 9:29)..The dhimmis [non-Muslim tributary’s] posture during the collection of the jizya- “[should be lowering themselves] by walking on their hands, …reluctantly… His words “and abasement and poverty were imposed upon them”, ‘These are the Jews of the Children of Israel’. ..‘Are they the Copts of Egypt?’…“What have the Copts of Egypt to do with this? No, by God, they are not; but they are the Jews, the Children of Israel.…By “and slain the prophets unrightfully” He means that they used to kill the Messengers of God without God’s leave, denying their messages and rejecting their prophethood.
These understandings became, and remain, intrinsic to contemporary Islamic doctrine and practice—notably in Yemen, vis-à-vis its Jews—to this day.
Professor Josef Tobi, a leading modern authority on the history of Yemenite Jewry, has explained that despite the almost equal division of Yemen’s Muslim Arabs into the Shiite Zaydis (today’s Houthis) mainly in the north central regions, and Sunnis (followers of the Shafiite school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence) in the south west:
…as far as the Jews were concerned, it made no difference whether they lived among (Shiite) Zaydis or (Sunni) Shafiites.
Moreover, he observed:
as the most stable feature of Yemenite society for the past eleven hundred years, the Zaydi legal system was decisive regarding religious matters.
Tobi cited the legal discriminations imposed upon Yemenite Jews, per Zaydi Islamic law, via the subjugating pact of “protection” (again, “protection” from the resumption of jihad against the Jews), as articulated by the 10th century Zaydi legist al-Murtada:
They shall be required to wear clothing which distinguishes them and shows their subjugation, such as a belt, or wear a discriminatory sign. They shall cut the forelocks of the hair in the center and shall not ride on saddles, but ride side-saddle. They shall display banners only in their houses of worship and shall not build new houses of worship; but they are permitted to rebuild what had been destroyed. They are not allowed to live outside their own quarters and [may leave them] only with the permission of the Muslims and for a specific purpose.
Al-Murtada, Tobi added, referred to the cancellation of the agreements of protection as follows:
The agreement will be cancelled if all or some of them break it, and if they do not separate themselves from those who remain [Jews] in word and in deed, and likewise, [the agreement] is cancelled with one who refrains from paying the jizya, if one is not able to force him [to do so].
The 18th century Yemenite jurist Al-Shawkani reiterated these views:
If their [the Jews’] obligations are not fulfilled, they revert to the situation in which their persons and property are no longer protected by the agreement, namely to the state of affairs prior to the agreement of protection.
The persistent application of this coercive and discriminatory Islamic “pact of protection” for Yemen’s Jews is evident in the following 1905 edict:
In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Beneficent This is a decree which the Jews must obey as commanded. They are obliged to observe everything in it. They are forbidden to disobey it. That is that these Jews are guaranteed protection upon payment of the jizya by each adult male…In this way, their blood is spared, and they are brought into the pact of protection. They may not avoid it. It is incumbent upon each individual to pay it prior to the year’s end into the hand of the person whom we have commended to receive it from them. This is religious law revealed by Allah unambiguously in His Scripture. Furthermore, they are not to assist each other against a Muslim. They may not build their houses higher than Muslim homes. They shall not crowd them in their streets. They may not turn them away from their watering places. They may not belittle the Islamic religion, nor curse any of the prophets. They shall not mislead a Muslim in matters pertaining to his religion. They may not ride on saddles, but only sit sidesaddle. They may not wink or point to the nakedness of a Muslim. They may not display their Torah except in their synagogues. Neither shall they raise their voices when reading, nor blow their shofars loudly. Rather, a muffled voice will suffice…. It is their duty to recognize the superiority of the Muslim and to accord him honor.
Indeed, Yemenite Jews paid the jizya until the liquidation of their community after Israel was established in 1948. Yemen’s twentieth-century rulers (Imam Yahya and his son Ahmad) continued the deliberately threatening and humiliating atmospherics of jizya collection. Aviva Klein-Franke described the collection process:
The Imam [Yahya, and later his son Ahmad] would nominate a respectable Jew to collect the Poll Tax. …He was ordered to prepare a list of all the Jewish males in his community who had reached the age of thirteen years for the purpose of collecting the jizya . . . [His assistants] also had to mention those Jews who had emigrated. As we have seen, the Imam confiscated the property of anyone who left the Yemen. Jews were not allowed to sell their property before leaving the country—everything would be forfeited to the Imam by his [Imam Yahya’s] decree of 1920. Before the [designated Jew] collected the money, a street crier went through the Jewish quarter, proclaiming that the Imam expected everyone to pay the jizya without delay. Failure to do so meant that a soldier, might be billeted on those in default until such time as they paid…Usually the Jews paid without any objection…they could send a written appeal to the Imam. If a Jew still refused to pay the jizya, the Imam would accept no further excuses and would send his soldiers to the recalcitrant Jew.
Bat Ye’or, an Egyptian Jewess, and pioneering scholar of the effects of Islam’s pact of “protection,” or “dhimma”, upon Jews and Christians, has observed how “additional abuses, not written into the [Islamic] laws became absorbed into custom.” She cites the requirement that Jews in Yemen remove their foot ware, and the abduction and forced conversion to Islam of Jewish orphans, as specific Yemenite manifestations of this phenomenon. What follows are illuminating examples of how the strict application of Islamic law, and its related debasing “customs,” impacted Yemen’s Jews across a continuum of the last three centuries, through their mass exodus to Israel in 1949-1950, during the Operation Magic Carpet airlifts.
One particularly devastating fate befell the Jews of Yemen based on rigid adherence to a motif in the hadith (and sira, or earliest pious Muslim biographies of Muhammad). Imam al-Mahdi, a pious seventeenth-century Yemenite ruler, acted upon the well-known statement from the canonical hadith (Sahih Muslim, Book 019, # 4366), attributed to a death bed wish of Muhammad himself, as recorded by Umar (the second Rightly Guided Caliph):
It has been narrated by 'Umar b. al-Khattib that he heard the Messenger of Allah say: I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslims.
In his fanatic zeal for Islam, al-Mahdi wished to fulfill the mandate of this hadith in Yemen as well. Thus al-Mahdi, in 1679-1680, ordered the entire Jewish population of Yemen—men, women, and children—exiled to the plain of Tihama, known for its salty water and soil, and generally unfavorable climate. A twentieth-century German tourist described Tihama as follows:
Tihama is a dreadful place because of its terrible heat. Temperatures of fifty degrees centigrade in the shade last for several days. The Bedouins, who are used to a variety of climatic conditions, do not dare to cross the coastal strip between the Red Sea and the mountains of Yemen before sunset . . . the meager waters of the inner Tihama are salty and not potable, at least as far as Europeans are concerned. Therefore, for example, the drinking water for the port city Hudayda must be carried on the backs of donkeys from mountains as far as eighty miles away. The climate of Tihama is the most harmful to one’s health in the entire Arabian peninsula. Harsh cases of malaria which gradually destroy the health of its inhabitants are a common occurrence. Even the Italian physicians in Hudayda are not able to do much against it.
In addition to the expulsion, there was destruction of synagogues, desecration of the Torah scrolls, and inducement for conversion to Islam. Only one quarter of those thousands of Jews expelled returned to their homes; the rest perished, dying primarily from exposure, due to the intense heat, lack of potable water, and the resultant spread of epidemic disease. Of the major Yemenite Jewish community in Sanaa, for example, which had numbered about ten thousand, only about one-tenth—one thousand—survived this catastrophic forced exile.
The remaining examples illustrate less traumatic forms of chronic oppression experienced by the Jews of Yemen, including two observations recorded in the Alliance Israélite (Universelle) archives. Yemenite Jews had to remove human feces and other waste matter (urine that failed to evaporate, etc.) from Muslim areas, initially in Sanaa and later in other communities such as Shibam, Yarim, and Dhamar. Decrees requiring this obligation were issued in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century and reintroduced in 1913. Yehuda Nini reproduces an 1874 letter written by a Yemenite Jew to the Alliance Israélite in Paris, lamenting the practice:
[I]t is 86 years since our forefathers suffered the cruel decree and great shame to the nation of Israel from the east to sundown . . . for in the days of our fathers, 86 years ago, there arose a judge known as Qadi, and said unto the king and his ministers who lived in that time that the Lord, Blessed be He, had only created the Jews out of love of the other nations, to do their work and be enslaved by them at their will, and to do the most contemptible and lowly of tasks. And of them all . . . the greatest contamination of all, to clear their privies and streets and pathways of the filthy dung and the great filth in that place and to collect all that is left of the dung, may your Honor pardon the expression.
Y. D. Sémach of the Alliance Israélite described what he termed the “behavioral distortions” of Yemenite Jews, resulting from their relentless oppression. His eyewitness account published in 1910 included these observations:
They lack confidence in themselves, and beneath the weight of Arab oppression they cower and crawl in the dust…The Jew is not allowed to wear white or colored garments outside his quarter…[H]e must wear a ridiculously short garment that does not cover his legs, and he must walk barefooted and wear on his head a little blackcap…The Jew cannot ride within the town on a donkey and morning and evening he must walk on foot the two miles that separate his quarter from the marketplace… Every day young Arabs found amusement in throwing stones at passing Jews while they, pretending not to notice, would hasten their stride. If one spits in their face, they turn their heads. A high-ranking [Turkish] officer described to me a scene that he had witnessed more than once: some youths had caught hold of an elderly Jew and amused themselves by pulling his side locks, while their victim grinned and simpered stupidly. Constantly obliged to bear these insults, the Jew has lost all sense of dignity, and has come to accept his fate; instead of fighting back, he smiles. What else can he do? A revolt would bring even more trouble. Every day our coreligionists suffer all kinds of humiliations and violence. They do not even complain: for them there is no justice, there cannot be. The Yemenite courts are all religious courts and the testimony of Jews is not accepted. A Muslim can knock down a Jew in front of fifty witnesses, yet he need only deny it to be acquitted; no Muslim would want to lodge a complaint against a brother for the sake of an infidel.
British Professor Robert Serjeant (d. 1993) was a prolific author and editor of publications on a wide range of Middle Eastern subjects. Serjeant described the “protection,” and frank ownership of Yemenite Jews by Muslim tribes in outlying areas of Yemen, through at least the early, and perhaps till the mid-20th century. It must be emphasized that Jews as subjugated and humiliated dhimmis (per Koran 9:29, and the dhimma, or “pact” of submission) could not bear arms, one of the many restrictions they endured vis-à-vis the Pact of ‘Umar, which afforded their “protection,” first and foremost, from the resumption of jihad war against them. Serjeant nevertheless extols this “protected” relationship, even its brutal, murderous consequences for the hapless Yemenite Jewish possessions of their Muslim tribal overlords.
. . . Judging by Arabic sources, the Jews of South Arabia were . . . dealt with . . . in fairly strict accordance with the shariah relating to the protected faiths . . . [for example] Outside the centralized Yemenite administration the Jew was protected by the Sultan, or even by the individual tribe; such was the case on the Habbanis. The protector would of course, be of the arms-bearing classes or perhaps of the religious aristocracy…An excellent example (emphasis added) of this form of protection . . . is to be found in a passage from the Fakhir of al-Mufaddal b. Salamah. A protected Jew of al-Husain, the Sayid of the Banu Sahm, was murdered by the Banu Sirmah, so the Sahm in turn slew a protected Jew of the Sirmah . . . the Sirmah came to al-Husain to discuss the matter. Al-Husain replied, “You killed our Jew, so we killed your Jew,” adding that it would be a pity if two tribes closely related should actually engage each other in war.
Bat Ye’or wrote a commentary on this particular analysis by Professor Serjeant, noting that such a system of “protection” existed in rural Yemen through at least the early twentieth century, and may have persisted until the mass exodus of Yemenite Jews to Israel in the mid-twentieth century. Her observations underscored not only the cruel, dehumanizing injustice of the sharia’s application to Yemenite Jews, but the equally grotesque apologetic “idealization” of this system by a prototypical, respected Western academic Islamologist.
Here it is clear that “protection” is linked with the suppression of rights. Rights to life and to security are only guaranteed to a Jew who is under “protection.” If a Muslim killed a Jew, the criminal would not be brought to trial because Muslim blood was considered superior to Jewish blood. Hence the lex talionis [i.e., retributive justice, “qisas,”per Koran 2:178] practiced by Islam could only be applied between equals—that is to say between Muslims—but not between a Muslim and a dhimmi, whether Jew or Christian…Thus if a Jew belonging to tribe A is killed by a Muslim from tribe B, then a Jew from tribe B would be killed by a Muslim from tribe A. So two Jews are killed without the Muslim murderer being arrested, a game that could go on for generations as a form of retaliation. In this legal system, the Jew, like an object or a camel, is excluded from human justice. His disappearance is felt as a deprivation for his Arab master, who obtains retribution by depriving another Arab of his Jewish asset. What is doubly interesting is that this information is provided in an article published in 1953 by a distinguished Cambridge University scholar, the late Professor Robert Serjeant, as an example of and a testimony to Islamic justice and tolerance. This means that he himself accepted the concept that a person, because he is a Jew, can be deprived of all his rights in a system that reduces his life to “protection” and “services.”
October 8, 1983, Bat Ye’or interviewed Yemenite Jews Hannah [Lolou] and Sa’adya b. Shelomo Akiva [Aqua], born respectively at Dhamar and Menakha (Yemen). They left Yemen in 1949, became citizens of Israel, and lived in Nes Ziyyona. Their recorded testimony affirms the additional chronic humiliations and oppressions experienced by Yemen’s Jews, resulting from the application of the sharia, right up until the community was effectively liquidated after the creation of Israel.
Until our departure from Yemen in 1949, it was forbidden for a Jew to write in Arabic, to possess arms, or to ride on a horse or camel. The Jews could only ride on donkeys, both legs on one side [sidesaddle] and were obliged to jump to the ground when passing a Muslim, and had to make detours. Pedestrians went on the left of Muslims. It was forbidden for Jews to enter mosques…The Arabs forbade us to wear shoes, so that we hid them when, as children, we went searching for wood for cooking. When we were far enough away, we put on our shoes; on returning, we took them off and hid them in the branches. The Arabs frequently searched us, and if they found them, they punished us and forbade us to collect wood. We had to lower our head, accepting insults and humiliations. The Arabs called us “stinking dogs.”
Jewish children who became orphans before they were fifteen were forcibly converted to Islam. The families tried to save them by hiding them in bundles of hay. Afterward, the children were sent to other villages where they hid with another family and were given other names. Sometimes the children were put into coffins and the Arabs were told that they had died with their parents. Then they were helped to escape.
According to a frank May 16, 1948 New York Times report by Mallory Browne, tellingly entitled, “Jews in Grave Danger in All Moslem Lands,” Yemen’s Jews, including those of Aden (who had survived a destructive, murderous December, 1947 pogrom) numbered 48,000, at that time. Not surprisingly, following their brisk departure to Israel via Operation Magic Carpet, by 1951 only 1300 Jews remained in Yemen, and as of 1959, even that small remnant population was reduced by more than half, to 600.
Georges Vajda’s comprehensive 1937 analysis of the portrayal of the Jews in the hadith remains the definitive treatment of this subject matter. He demonstrated that according to these canonical Muslim traditions of Muhammad, the Jews’ stubborn malevolence, is their defining worldly characteristic:
Jews are represented in the darkest colors [i.e., in the hadith]. Convinced by the clear testimony of their books that Muhammad was the true prophet, they refused to convert, out of envy, jealousy and national particularism, even out of private interest. They have falsified their sacred books and do not apply the laws of God; nevertheless, they pursued Mohammed with their raillery and their oaths, and harassed him with questions, an enterprise that turned to their own confusion and merely corroborated the authenticity of the supernatural science of the prophet. From words they moved to action: sorcery, poisoning, assassination held no scruples for them.
These archetypes, Vajda concluded, in turn justify Muslim animus toward the Jews, and the admonition to at best “subject [the Jews] to Muslim domination,” as dhimmis, treated “with contempt,” under certain “humiliating arrangements.”
Vajda (d. 1981) also made these sadly prescient observations in 1968 regarding Islamic doctrines that continue to shape the behaviors of Muslim governments and societies toward any Jewish communities remaining in their midst, no matter how small or unobtrusive, present day Yemen offering a striking illustration:
[I]t seems clear that, unless it changes its principles, goes against the deepest feelings of its coreligionists and calls in question its own raison d’être, no Muslim power, however “liberal” it may like to think itself…could depart from the line of conduct followed in the past and continued de facto in the present [emphasis added], in conferring on Jews anything but the historic status of “protection,” patched up with ill-digested and unassimilated Western phraseology.