Operation to rescue Yemeni Jews was 2 years in the making, son says
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Operation to rescue Yemeni Jews was 2 years in the making, son says

From the US, Manny Dahari helped orchestrate his family's airlift to Israel; 'I'm just so relieved right now. I know that they're safe,' he says

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds an 500 hundred-year-old Torah scroll as he poses for a picture with some of the Yemenite Jews who were brought to Israel as part of a secret rescue operation, at the Knesset on March 21, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds an 500 hundred-year-old Torah scroll as he poses for a picture with some of the Yemenite Jews who were brought to Israel as part of a secret rescue operation, at the Knesset on March 21, 2016. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Manny Dahari had been working from America for two years with the US State Department and Jewish Agency to get his family out of Yemen — and this week he succeeded.

On Sunday night, 17 members of the Yemenite Jewish community were brought to Israel from the civil war-stricken country, a few days after two other Yemeni Jews arrived.

Many of the details about their escape are still being kept secret, Dahari told The Times of Israel over the phone. According to Saudi sources, however, the Houthi rebels who controlled the area where the family lived were bribed to allow safe passage for the 19 Jews.

From the Houthi-controlled city of Sanaa and the nearby village Raydah in western Yemen, the 19 Jews flew to Amman, Jordan and then to Israel, the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported.

“I’ve known about it all along, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure of when,” Dahari said.

Manny Dahari, who helped orchestrate the airlift to remove his family and other members of the Jewish community from Yemen, receives an award from the Israeli American Council in March 2016. (Courtesy)
Manny Dahari, who helped orchestrate the airlift to remove his family and other members of the Jewish community from Yemen, receives an award from the Israeli American Council in March 2016. (Courtesy)

Dahari had been working closely with the Jewish Agency to help orchestrate the move. Today, the 22-year-old studies marketing and political science at Yeshiva University in New York, he said.

“Over the past month we’ve tried maybe four times. Three times we failed, and this time it finally happened,” he said. “I’m just so relieved right now. I know that they’re safe,” Dahari said.

In the wake of the escape, at least two Yemenites — a Muslim and a Jew — have been arrested by the authorities there for their alleged involvement in the operation.

The final group of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrives in Israel accompanied by an ancient Torah scroll, March 20, 2016. (Arielle Di-Porto/The Jewish Agency for Israel)
The final group of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrives in Israel accompanied by an ancient Torah scroll, March 20, 2016. (Arielle Di-Porto/The Jewish Agency for Israel)

The charges against the two apparently have less to do with the escape of the 19 Jews and more to do with a nearly 600-year-old Torah scroll that was brought out of the country with them, which the Houthi rebel leadership claims is part of its heritage.

When news broke that arrests had been made over the removal of the scroll from Yemen, Dahari took to Facebook.

“[The rebels] claim that the Torah scroll belongs to the Yemeni government and my family had no right to take it with them to Israel. The statement is absolutely false and I urge them to release the detainees immediately,” he said.

“The Torah scroll has been in my family for hundreds of years and we will never give it up for anything or anyone,” Dahari wrote.

Getting the children out

Almost ten years ago, when he was 13 years old, Manny Dahari moved to the United States from Yemen in order to escape the uncertainty and violence there. Another brother also moved to the US, but the two did not live together, Dahari said.

A few years later, in 2009, two members of the Jewish community were killed in anti-Semitic attacks, which prompted the family to get their remaining kids out of the country, Dahari’s brother Naftali said earlier this year.

Naftali Dahari, a Yemeni Jew whose family was brought to Israel in a secret rescue operation, peers through a pair of binoculars as part of his service in the IDF's 188th Armored Brigade in this undated photograph. (Courtesy)
Naftali Dahari, a Yemeni Jew whose family was brought to Israel in a secret rescue operation, peers through a pair of binoculars as part of his service in the IDF’s 188th Armored Brigade in this undated photograph. (Courtesy)

The family began moving the children out of Yemen to Israel in shifts, Naftali said.

Before his parents moved to Israel, when he one of the IDF’s few soldiers born in an Arab country, Naftali spoke with The Times of Israel about his experience moving to Israel from Yemen.

Naftali now serves in the IDF’s 188th Armored Brigade and has a little more than a year to go in his compulsory service.

In October, four of his siblings joined him in Israel, living in an apartment in an absorption center in Beersheba, he said.

“They live with me now. It’s fun. For so long I didn’t see them. Now it’s very exciting,” Naftali said.

The 19-year-old, who had only learned Hebrew and finished high school two years before, suddenly had his siblings looking to him — the comparative Israel veteran — to help them integrate into society.

Welcome home! After ten years of not seeing my younger siblings, two years of trying to get them out and three failed attempts, they're finally out! #Israel #JewishHome

Posted by Manny Dahari on Saturday, 24 October 2015

“When I got here, I didn’t have anyone who could help me. There’s nothing better than someone in your family who can help you,” he said about helping his siblings, before their parents joined them.

Now, it seems, he will have to do the same for his mother and father.

The final group of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrives in Israel accompanied by an ancient Torah scroll, March 20, 2016. (Arielle Di-Porto/The Jewish Agency for Israel)
The final group of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrives in Israel accompanied by an ancient Torah scroll, March 20, 2016. (Arielle Di-Porto/The Jewish Agency for Israel)

This week, four years after saying goodbye to his parents, Naftali discovered his family had come to join him in the Jewish state — while he was visiting America.

Dahari had flown to the US to visit his two brothers who live there, when he learned of the secret operation organized by his brother.

“My mom called me from the airport in Israel and said, ‘We’ve arrived in Israel, be happy. Everything’s okay, you don’t need to worry, you’re not alone anymore,” Dahari told the Walla news site on Tuesday.

Getting out

Naftali, who is relatively short but stocky, speaks quietly, with just a slight accent that reveals his Arabic origin.

Both Naftali and Manny were emphatic about the need to leave Yemen, as an ongoing vicious civil war makes the country, which was never entirely safe for Jews to begin with, even more fraught with danger.

“After the civil war started, they killed two Jews in Yemen. They closed the schools. They knew who we were. They would yell at us, throw rocks at us,” Naftali said.

“Here, there is freedom. You don’t have fear. If you are Jewish, here you feel like this is really your country,” he said.

The motto of the Shiite insurgency, which emerged in Saada in 2004, is “Death to America, death to Israel, cursed be the Jews, victory to Islam.”

‘Here there is freedom. You don’t have fear.’

However, the Houthis as a group have more or less left the Jewish population in Saana and Raydah alone, a local resident said in 2015.

“The Houthis aren’t speaking with the Jews, but there’s still some fear,” the resident admitted. “We don’t know who is a Houthi and who isn’t, who’s good and who’s bad… We don’t know what the Arabs are planning.”

In a 2012 interview with a local website, a Jewish resident of Sanaa, Haboob Salem Mousa, also described the difficulties of living in Yemen.

“Intimidation, worry and havoc were commonplace. We didn’t feel secure at home or on the street. To avoid attacks, we used to hide our peyot under a cap so that we would not be recognized as Jewish,” Mousa said, referring to the long earlocks grown by some religious Jews.

Despite the threats and abuse, nearly 50 Jews have opted to remain in Yemen, according to the Jewish Agency, which is something Manny Dahari struggles to understand.

“People are really attached to the place,” he said. “But they are second class citizens, they are treated horribly. I think they are going to regret it, if they don’t leave.”

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