Proper now, the synagogue remains to be quiet. However as soon as the normal Jewish pilgrimage to it begins on Saturday, there are more likely to be hundreds of worshippers from all around the world right here on the Tunisian island of Djerba.
For the primary time within the greater than two years because the COVID-19 pandemic started, a lot of pilgrims to the North African nation might be participating in non secular festivities over the course of eight days. In 2020 and 2021, pilgrimages have been canceled as a result of well being disaster and entry was very restricted.
However this yr, Jewish neighborhood chief Perez Trabelsi advised DW, between 4,000 and 5,000 guests are anticipated. Trabelsi additionally chairs the pilgrimage organizing committee.
The synagogue on Djerba is without doubt one of the oldest in Africa and a website for Jewish pilgrimage. It’s because, as non secular legend has it, the two,500-year-old place of worship — often called the Ghriba synagogue in Arabic — was constructed utilizing remnants of the primary Jewish temple in Jerusalem. The Bible says the temple was destroyed by a Babylonian king who despatched Jewish worshippers into exile. These refugees are stated to have introduced fragments of the temple with them to Djerba.
In the present day, round 1,000 Jewish Tunisians reside on Djerba. This makes it the most important Jewish neighborhood in Tunisia and the second-largest within the Arab world. Solely the Moroccan Jewish neighborhood in Casablanca, between 1,500 to 2,000 members robust, is bigger than Djerba’s.
After Tunisia turned impartial from France in 1956, many Tunisian Jews left the nation. The financial state of affairs in Tunisia was troublesome then, and there have been additionally rising tensions between the Jewish neighborhood and Tunisia’s Muslim majority after the state of Israel was based in 1948.
Tunisian Jews found themselves marginalized and felt underneath strain to to migrate. A second giant wave of migration of Tunisian Jews adopted in 1967 after the Six-Day Battle. All through historical past, the Center East battle has impacted the lives of Tunisian Jews, and the tensions have resulted in violence, dying and the destruction of Jewish property.
Tunisian leaders condemned the violence against the religious minority however didn’t forestall its exodus. This has had demographic penalties. Within the Nineteen Fifties, there have been round 100,000 Jews within the nation.
In 2002, a terrorist assault precipitated 14 deaths and fireplace contained in the synagogue
In 2002, the Djerba synagogue was the target of a terrorist attack when an extremist rammed a truck loaded with liquid propane into the constructing. The explosion killed 19 individuals, together with 14 vacationers from Germany. Extremist group al-Qaida claimed the assault.
In January 2018, petrol bombs have been thrown at a Jewish faculty on Djerba. There have been no accidents, though the college was broken.
The Jewish-Muslim relationship in Tunisia continues to be fraught.
Regional tensions mirrored
Earlier than being elected to workplace in 2019, the current president of the country, Kais Saied, stated he wouldn’t permit anybody holding an Israeli passport to enter Tunisia — not even to go to the Djerba synagogue.
His assertion was an obvious response to the continuing normalization of ties between Israel and a few Arab states, together with Tunisia’s neighbor, Morocco. Requested about the so-called Abraham Accords throughout a presidential debate in 2019, Saied replied, “normalization is the incorrect phrase to make use of. We ought to be speaking about excessive treason.”
So far as its personal relationship with Israel goes, Tunisia’s International Ministry dominated out diplomatic ties final summer season. Regardless of this, the entry of Israelis to Tunisia is often tolerated, normally underneath particular circumstances.
The COVID-19 well being disaster meant only some pilgrims made it to Djerba over the previous two years
Nevertheless Israeli passport holders are actually not welcome in every single place within the nation. When combating broke out between the Israeli navy and the Hamas motion in Might final yr, many Tunisians expressed solidarity for Palestinians at native rallies.
This spring, the film Dying on the Nile, a remake of an outdated traditional, was banned in Tunisia as a result of one of many leads is Israeli actor Gal Gadot.
As occurs elsewhere, not all Tunisians differentiate rigorously between residents of Israel and Jewish people. However in some areas, efforts are made to stay as apolitical as doable and to emphasise examples of profitable coexistence between Jews and Muslims in Tunisia.
Tunisia’s chief rabbi, Haim Bittan, advised DW that the connection between the Jewish minority and Muslim majority within the nation is basically freed from stress. “There has all the time been coexistence between Muslims, Christians and Jews who reside in the identical neighborhood, with none issues,” he acknowledged.
The top of Djerba’s Jewish neighborhood, Perez Trabelsi, additionally talked concerning the relationship in constructive phrases, and advised that the pilgrimage preparations have been a great instance of this.
Many Tunisian Muslims contribute to the success of the pilgrimage, Trabelsi famous.
“I personally reside extra amongst [Tunisian] Muslims than amongst Jewish Tunisians,” he defined. “Most people I work with within the synagogue are additionally Muslim.”
Many native Muslims take pleasure in participating within the Jewish festivities, Trabelsi added. In reality, they make up a couple of third of all guests to the occasions. “They arrive to look at and to take part within the celebrations,” the neighborhood chief enthused. “That is why it is such a novel occasion.”
As but, it’s unclear whether or not different tensions within the Center East or the feedback made by the nation’s more and more authoritarian President Saied could have any influence on the numbers of pilgrims from Israel this yr.
In reality, it is not clear whether or not Jews from Israel will come to Tunisia, Trabelsi advised DW in the course of this week. The pilgrimage is scheduled to begin on the weekend however there have been some problems with visas, he famous.
On the time of writing, DW was not capable of confirm whether or not Israeli pilgrims would be capable to attend the weekend occasions.
“We haven’t any info from the federal government but,” Trabelsi advised DW. There have been lots of requests however, “due to the sensitivity of the problem, we clearly do not need to trigger any confusion ourselves.”
Lately, Jewish individuals with Tunisian origins reside in lots of different nations around the globe, together with in Israel, he continued.
“No matter political background, all of them have the fitting to go to Djerba and the synagogue,” Trabelsi argued. “Whether or not a customer comes from Israel, or one other nation, is none of our enterprise. It’s all the time concerning the particular person particular person.”
This text was initially revealed in German.