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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The last of Jewish Arabs

Heartbreaking story in the Economist:
The government of Yemen and its people are vociferously anti-Israel. Three of the country’s members of parliament were on the aid flotilla to Gaza that was lethally raided by Israeli commandos at the end of May. They were later given a hero’s welcome home. Yemenis rarely protest publicly against their own miserable circumstances at home. But when tensions rise in Gaza, they happily hold parades in Sana’a, the country’s capital. Comedies on television often feature stupid Israeli soldiers outwitted by plucky Palestinians.

Yet Yemenis also say they appreciate the heritage of their country’s Jews. In the Great Mosque in Sana’a’s ancient city, a guard, whispering as pious men pore over Korans, points out Jewish carvings. In the village of Jibla, south of Sana’a, locals show the star of David on an ancient synagogue, now a mosque. Market traders boast that their wares are made of traditional Jewish silver. A stern police officer gives a permit to a Jewish-American to let him visit an old Jewish village.

The village may soon be no more. The last hundred or so Yemeni Jews are set to leave after more than two millennia in the country. A century ago some 50,000 of them lived more or less peacefully alongside the Muslim majority, now numbering 23m. Life became harder for them after the creation of Israel in 1948, with outbreaks of violence against Jews.
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