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March 21, 2016 7:13 pm

‘I Am So Excited to Reach the Land of Our Forefathers,’ Says Yemenite Rabbi, Among 17 Jews Brought to Israel in Clandestine Operation

avatar by Ruthie Blum

Some members of the group of Yemenite Jews who arrived in Israel Sunday night. Photo: The Jewish Agency for Israel.

Some members of the group of Yemenite Jews who arrived in Israel Sunday night. Photo: The Jewish Agency for Israel.

The Yemenite Jews who arrived Sunday night in Israel as part of a clandestine operation to rescue them from their war-torn country expressed a mixture of disbelief and joy at having left their home in an Islamic country and made it to their homeland in the Jewish state, the Hebrew news site nrg reported on Monday.

“This is our country,” one of the 17 members of the group told nrg, from the absorption center in Beersheba where they were placed.”I finally feel that I am finally in a place where I do not have to be afraid.”

He also thanked the Jewish Agency for helping them immigrate to Israel. “During these times, it is very difficult to leave Arab states; you have to receive all kinds of permits,” he said.

According to nrg, the 17 Yemenite Jews who were brought to Israel were members of four families from the northern town of Raida, and Sana, the capital city. A few dozen others, who did not want to leave, remain behind, mostly in a closed compound in the latter.

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Ariel Di-Porto, director of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Middle East Aliyah Desk, told nrg that the agency has been working tirelessly, for months, on the clandestine operation, which he described as “incredibly complex.”

Among the arrivals is Yaakov Dahari, 50, who served as the rabbi in Raida. He came with his parents, wife and nine children and a Torah scroll believed to be 500 years old. “I am so excited to reach the land of our forefathers,” he said. “It is good to be among Jews, blessed be God.”

Dahari explained that though he had wanted to make aliyah for years, “I wasn’t able to, because we have property that nobody would buy from us because we are Jews.”

It is not clear what has become of the property of those who welcomed the operation to whisk them to the Holy Land.

Nor has the Jewish Agency explained how the operation was carried out, since Israel has no diplomatic relations with Yemen, and the other countries — the US and Britain — that helped Yemenite Jews flee to Israel in the past themselves closed their embassies in Sana last year.

Saudi Arabia is the only country that controls the coming and going of all traffic into and out of Yemen, which it has blockaded. Recent talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia, whose shared interest is preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, could be a key to the mystery — though no source has verified this.

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