The Last Photographs of Yemenite Jewry

While most of Yemen’s Jews had left in 1949 and 1950 during a renowned Israeli airlift, a few hundred remained up until the early 1990s. The painter and photographer Myriam Tangi describes her visits to these Jewish communities in 1983, 1984, and 1986, along with Frédéric Brenner, whom she later married. (Photographs can be found at the link below.)

We applied for tourist visas, and, when we arrived, we made our way to different villages across the country, including Beit Sinan in the Arhab district, about an hour north of Sana’a, the capital. We could not tell our guides or hosts that we were interested in meeting Jews, both for their safety and our own. Instead, we would visit the local sheikh and ask him, through our interpreter, about his village.

Since Jews were restricted to certain trades, most famously jewelry making, we would say that we wanted to buy jewelry. It was not at all surprising or suspicious that tourists would want to buy some of the exquisite silver filigree bracelets or necklaces for which these great craftsmen were famous. (Other crafts that were considered beneath Muslims and hence practiced by Jews included metalworking, leatherworking, and, among the women, basket-weaving.)

Jews had the traditional status of dhimmi, protected but decidedly second-class citizens, as non-Muslims living under Islamic law. As such, they were not allowed to own land, and, more visibly, Jewish men were not allowed to wear the janbiya, a short, curved dagger that all Yemenite Muslim men wear. Muslim men could also enter a Jewish home at any time, unannounced, except on Shabbat. Nonetheless, the day-to-day relations among local Jews, the sheikh, and their Muslim neighbors often seemed warm, even friendly, and the pace of life was slow. . . .

As a woman, I could spend time with the Jewish women and sometimes photograph them while they were working (cooking, sewing, making baskets) or in the home. As we traveled, we observed that the villages closer to Sana’a had stricter dress codes. The Jewish women in outlying villages did not wear a niqab, which covered the whole face, as all the Muslim women did. Instead, they wore veils that covered only their hair, but as one neared the capital, the veils grew larger.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Photography, Yemen, Yemenite Jewry

Reengaging the Syrian Government Has Brought Jordan an Influx of Narcotics, but Little Stability

As Syria’s civil war drags on, and it seems increasingly unlikely that Bashar al-Assad will be overthrown, Arab states that had anathematized his regime for its brutal treatment of its own people have gradually begun to rebuild economic and diplomatic relations. There are also those who believe the West should do the same. The case of Jordan, argues Charles Lister, shows the folly of such a course of action:

Despite having been a longtime and pivotally important backer of Syria’s armed anti-Assad opposition since 2012, Jordan flipped in 2017 and 2018, eventually stepping forward to greenlight a brutal, Russian-coordinated Syrian-regime campaign against southern Syria in the summer of 2018. Amman’s reasoning for turning against Syria’s opposition was its desire for stability along its border, to create conditions amenable to refugee returns, and to rid southern Syria of Islamic State cells as well as an extensive Iranian and Hizballah presence.

As hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians were swiftly besieged and indiscriminately bombed from the ground and air, Jordan forced its yearslong Free Syrian Army partners to surrender, according to interviews I conducted with commanders at the time. In exchange, they were promised by Jordan a Russian-guaranteed reconciliation process.

Beyond the negligible benefit of resuming trade, Russia’s promise of “reconciliation” has resolutely failed. Syria’s southern province of Daraa is now arguably the most unstable region in the country, riddled with daily insurgent attacks, inter-factional strife, targeted assassinations, and more. Within that chaos, which Russia has consistently failed to resolve, not only does Iran remain in place alongside Hizballah and a network of local proxy militias but Iran and its proxies have expanded their reach and influence, commanding some 150 military facilities across southern Syria. Islamic State, too, continues to conduct sporadic attacks in the area.

Although limited drug smuggling has always existed across the Syria-Jordan border, the scale of the Syrian drug trade has exploded in the last two years. The most acute spike occurred (and has since continued) immediately after the Jordanian king Abdullah II’s decision to speak with Assad on the phone in October 2021. Since then, dozens of people have been killed in border clashes associated with the Syrian drug trade, and although Jordan had previously been a transit point toward the prime market in the Persian Gulf, it has since become a key market itself, with Captagon use in the country now described as an “epidemic,” particularly among young people and amid a 30-percent unemployment rate.

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Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Drugs, Jordan, Middle East, Syrian civil war