The last three Jewish families in Yemen were deported by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, leaving only four elderly Jews from what was once a community that was several thousand-strong, the London-based Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported over the weekend.
The families, totaling 13 people, told Asharq Al-Awsat they were refusing to go to Israel and were awaiting to hear from the U.N. refugee agency receiving asylum. Their expulsion was the result of a deal to release Levi Salem Marhabi, a Jew whom the rebels captured about six years ago.
“They gave us a choice between staying in the midst of harassment and keeping Salem a prisoner, or leaving and having him released,” one of the deported Jews told Asharq Al-Awsat. “History will remember us as the last of Yemeni Jews who were still clinging to their homeland until the last moment.”
“We had rejected many temptations time and time again, and refused to leave our homeland, but today we are forced.”
Marhabi was arrested by the Houthis for helping a Yemeni Jewish family move an ancient Torah scroll, said to be 800- years-old, out of the country. Despite a ruling by the Houthis own court that he was innocent and should be released, he was held as a bargaining chip, the newspaper reported.
Marhabi reportedly suffered several kinds of torture in his Sanaa prison cell, and was eventually left partially paralyzed after a stroke.