Yemen's Jews furtively flee to Israel, leaving an ancient legacy behind

Some member of Yemen's tiny Jewish community, who made a cloaked journey, arrive in Israel.

Story highlights

  • Seventeen Jews make a secretative and dangerous trek to Israel
  • Yemen's Jewish population dates back thousands of years; today, fewer than 100 remain
  • "Praise God. I am very happy that I'm in Israel with my children and grandchildren," family matriarch says

Be'er Sheva, Israel (CNN)The flight landed in Israel in the dead of night. Its origin was a secret. So were its passengers. Only well after the plane touched down at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport and the passengers disembarked and made their way to their temporary home did the secret come out.

Seventeen Yemenite Jews were onboard, some of the last of Yemen's dwindling Jewish population escaping the war-torn country. They arrived under cover of darkness, wearing their traditional headscarves and speaking their native Arabic.
They boarded buses to the immigration center in Be'er Sheva in southern Israel, where family members who had already moved to Israel greeted them with a shower of hugs and kisses.
    Sulaiman al-Dahari came with his family. His brothers and sisters. His children. His mother. The family lived far away from the civil war, Dahari said, but they escaped Yemen's crumbling economy.
    "The situation there is mixed between fear and poverty. The economic situation is bad. I feel comfortable here in Israel," Dahari said. Even though he feels at home, he promised his journey has not ended.
    "Of course, I will get back to Yemen, because my family and I love Yemen."

    Tiny population grows even smaller

    Dahari's family left a country that has become increasingly hostile to the small Jewish population in Yemen. Sectarian violence has torn the Gulf nation apart, and the country's Jewish population has fallen from a few hundred to a few dozen in recent years, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, which tracks immigration to Israel.
    Most of the remaining Jews live in a guarded government compound in the heart of rebel-held Sana'a.
    "Now it is very, very hard. Very dangerous for them," said Zera Dehari, who left Yemen for the United States years ago. His cousins were among the latest group to leave Yemen. He flew to Israel to meet them.
    "They're telling me it's very hard for them in Yemen now. I