A community of 230 Orthodox Jews from several countries, reportedly belonging to the Lev Tahor sect, began leaving the Guatemalan Indian village where they have lived for six years on Thursday after claims and counterclaims of discrimination and threats.
Their exit from San Juan La Laguna, on the banks of Lake Atitlan and 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the capital Guatemala City, follows a meeting Wednesday in which Jewish and indigenous representatives failed to reach an agreement.
"We are a people of peace and in order to avoid an incident we've already begun to leave the village," Misael Santos, a representative from the Jewish community, told AFP.
They had received threats, Santos said.
"We have a right to be there, but they threatened us with lynching if we don't leave the village," he added.
Most members of the small Jewish community are from the United States, Israel, Britain and Russia, and around 40 are Guatemalan. Approximately half are children.
Since October, the local indigenous population has accused the Orthodox Jews of discriminating against them and of violating Mayan customs.
The Council of Indigenous Elders said the Jewish community "wanted to impose their religion" and was undermining the Catholic faith that is predominant in the village.
"We act in self-defense and to respect our rights as indigenous people. The (Guatemalan) constitution protects us because we need to conserve and preserve our culture," council spokesman Miguel Vasquez told AFP.
The decision to expel the Jews was made by 75 members of the Council, who represent the 20 indigenous communities of San Juan La Laguna.
The Lev Tahor community is now looking for a new home after the deadline for their departure was set for Friday.
Earlier this month, the Jewish community complained that is has been harassed by the locals.
"In recent weeks, some people went to the owners of the houses rented to us, and asked them to cut the water and electricity in order to force us out," Santos, a Guatemalan who converted to Lev Tahor, said.
According to the community's claims, verbal and physical attacks against them started in October, when six additional Jewish families moved to the village. According to reports, the locals insulted them and mocked their way of dressing.
"We wanted a clean, quiet, peaceful and friendly place for our children to grow up,” Santos said in May, and noted the verbal and racial attacks have worsened recently.
Another claim was that at certain point the village had prepared a "list of Jews," which caused international outcry.
The leaders of the Jewish community in Guatemala, however, dispute much of Santos' claims of anti-Semitism, and have warned in the past that Lev Tahor and its close cousin Toras Hesed are "cults which do not represent normative Judaism."