One of the last remaining Jewish citizens in Yemen is being detained by Houthi militias, tortured and held in inhumane conditions despite being sick and vulnerable, campaigners and the head rabbi in the UAE told The National.
Levi Salem Marhabi is still a captive of the militants, said the American Sephardi Federation (ASF), a group that raises awareness about Sephardic (eastern) Jewish communities, including Yemeni Jews. |The 34-tear old Yemeni Jewish man was imprisoned by the Houthis in 2016.
He was arrested for helping a Jewish family escape prosecution and for allegedly attempting to smuggle an aged Torah scroll to Israel, said Jason Gubarman, executive director of the ASF, which is leading a campaign to free Mr Marhabi.
“The Houthis continue to illegally imprison Marhabi,” Gubarman said. “Levi, who has been tortured for years in the Houthi prison in Sanaa, is now partially paralysed.”
The Insaf Centre for Defending Freedoms and Minorities, a Yemeni NGO, said in a report in March 2021 that the Houthi authorities in Sanaa refused to release Mr Marhabi despite a ruling by a Houthi-controlled appeal court in 2019 to free him, along with three Muslim men who were arrested with him.
All were accused of attempting to smuggle a Torah scroll out of Yemen.
At the time it was widely reportedly that the last members of the Jewish micro-minority – just 13 people in the Houthi-held capital Sanaa – had been forced to flee to Egypt.
The forced deportation was supposedly a bargaining move by the Houthis, a condition for the release of Mr Marhabi.
“Levi’s mother was one of the 13 Jewish [people] who were expelled by the Houthis to Egypt,” Mr Gubarman said. “Now, there are approximately four Jewish people left in Yemen, but they are elderly.”
Months passed after the 13 Jews left Sanaa for Cairo in exchange for Mr Marhabi’s release, but he remains in the Houthi prison, despite his deteriorating health.
“Levi has been suffering in the Houthi prison despite a court ruling ordering his release, just like the three Muslims who were imprisoned with him, yet only he remains imprisoned, because of his religion,” Elie Abadie, the UAE’s senior rabbi in residence and chairman of the American Sephardi Federation’s Council of Sephardic Sages, told The National.
“Levi has many health problems and he has lost his teeth due to the brutal torture he has been exposed to,” Mr Abadie said.
Dr Abadie called upon the Houthi leadership to release Mr Marhabi.
“Levi has been suffering in prison for more than five years for no violation of any law except the fulfilment of his religious Jewish duties,” he said.
Dr Abadie said that what the Houthis are doing to Mr Marhabi and the rest of Yemen’s Jewish community is a crime against humanity.
Echoing a statement in March by the US State Department, Mr Abadie said the international community must press for Mr Marhabi to be released and to receive immediate medical attention.
The US State Department said that “his [Mr Marhabi] health continues to deteriorate as he languishes in a Sanaa prison, where the threat of contracting Covid-19 is a real possibility”.
“We call on the Houthis to respect religious freedom, stop oppressing Yemen’s Jewish population, and immediately release Levi Salem Musa Marhabi,” the department said.
Jews have lived in Yemen for centuries and the community could date back as much as 2,000 years.
Jewish communities thrived in areas in northern Yemen, including the provinces of Sanaa, Saada and Amran, but could also be found in areas in southern Yemen including Shabwa, Yafea, Al Dhalea.
Yemeni Jews worked in many professions including metalwork, such as making traditional Yemeni daggers, or janbiyas.
The knives have distinct, short and curved blades, with fine patterns on the hilt, and are worn for traditional purposes, especially in northern Yemen.
But there were also times of extreme repression, including during the Yemeni-Ottoman conflicts in the 15th century, although the Jewish community enjoyed much more freedom during the second period of Ottoman rule in the 19th century.
The Yemeni Jewish community was estimated at more than 55,000 in 1948, but after the subsequent Arab-Israeli wars this number dropped to just four individuals in 2021.
The majority of the Yemen Jewish community left Yemen to Israel as part of Operation Magic Carpet in 1949 and 1950, when the Imam of Yemen and the Israeli government reached an agreement to fly out about 45,000 members of the community.
Few Jewish families remained in Yemen after the operation, the majority of them based in the far north of the country.
Since the Houthi group emerged in 1990, they stepped up systematic oppression against Jews who did not want to leave Yemen.
Jews were killed and others were prosecuted, and in 2007 Jews remaining in Saada province were forced to relocate to Sanaa, where they settled in a guarded housing complex under government protection until 2014, when the Houthis took over Sanaa and expelled them.
Yemen under Houthi control is very soon expected to be a country without Jews.
“The Houthis’ aggression against us began in 1995. They forced us to flee our homes in Saada and took everything. They took our homes, our lands and killed one of our family,” Itzik Fayez, a Yemeni Jew who fled with his family to Britain in 1990, told The National.
This year, the UAE government helped to reunite Yemeni Jewish families split between Yemen and the UK for decades. Two families were flown from Yemen to Abu Dhabi where they met their relatives who live in the UAE and UK.
Source » thenationalnews