Preserving a Jewish Cemetery amid the Yemeni Civil War

Aug. 23 2022

As of February, only seven Jews remained in war-torn Yemen, the remnants of a venerable community famous for its piety. Yet in the port city of Aden, in the southwestern part of the country—currently controlled by UAE-backed forces—authorities have reportedly been restoring the Jewish graveyard. The Times of Israel relates a recent interview with the local journalist Ahmad Shalbi by the Kan news channel:

Initially reluctant to speak with an Israeli news site, Shalbi, who has covered the cemetery’s renovation in Yemen for months, said the move came after years of neglect. “This cemetery was neglected and ruined. Parts of its surrounding wall were damaged,” he said, adding that efforts to renovate the site were first led by voluntary civil organizations before General Aidarus Qassem Abdulaziz al-Zoubaidi, the president of Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council, [which governs the area], got involved.

The Jewish cemetery in Aden has existed for more than 160 years and is believed to house hundreds of graves belonging to members of a community that no longer exists. A local researcher told local media that, according to Jewish tradition, the cemetery is the burial site of the biblical figure Abel.

[T]he Yemeni initiative to restore the cemetery should not be taken lightly, and is even more surprising considering the civil war between a Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, which the country has been embroiled in for years. . . . Houthi rebels have carried out systematic persecution of Yemen’s few remaining Jews, pushing the ancient community out of the country almost entirely.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Jewish cemeteries, Yemen, Yemenite Jewry

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia