There is great concern among international figures working for the release of the Jew Levi Salem Musa al-Merhavi (39) from the prison of the Houthi government in Yemen.
Merhavi ran the sentence imposed on him in March 2016 for his part in smuggling, according to the Houthi authorities, an ancient Torah scroll to Israel. Thirteen members of his family, who left Yemen for Egypt in March this year, were promised that Merhavi would be released from prison.
This was done, but it was handed over to the Houthi intelligence service, which has been holding him without trial. This, according to international sources, in order to “use political pressure through it”.
The family members, who were smuggled in secretly, were interested in coming to Israel, but the family member objected to this and so the process was delayed and some settled in the Emirates. They visited their relative Merhavi, one of the last six Jews left in Yemen, in prison before leaving Yemen for Egypt and saying his conditions had improved.
The pro-Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported at the time that the Houthi rebels in Yemen had led to the departure of the last three Jewish families, and that in return the rebels had promised the Jews the release of Levi from detention.
The Torah scroll, estimated to be more than 500 years old, was brought to Israel in 2016 by 17 members of the Jewish community in Yemen who immigrated to Israel. They then received a warm and well-publicized welcome from former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and were even photographed with him and the ancient Torah scroll. Their pictures with the book provoked outrage among the Houthi rulers in Yemen, who opened an investigation and began an arrest operation, which included Levy Merhavi.
Three Jews and 12 Arabs, who were arrested in Yemen following the “smuggling” of the Torah scroll into Israel, were released shortly after, but Merhavi remained in custody. The Yemeni authorities claimed that “the Torah scroll is considered a historical treasure and the property of the state.” It was also reported at the time that a Muslim worker had been arrested at the airport in Yemen from which the Jews took off, on suspicion that it was possible for the rabbi of the community to intentionally board a plane with the ancient book.