Tunisia: Jewish pilgrims to flock to Ghriba after polemics

Thousands to visit Djerba's ancient synagogue

14 May, 21:02

    Jewish pilgrims in Djerba Jewish pilgrims in Djerba

    (ANSAmed) - TUNIS - After a one-year suspension during the 2011 Tunisian uprising, the traditional Jewish pilgrimage to the Ghriba Synagogue on the island of Djerba will once again be held this year. Polemics were raised by some individuals concerned that granting visas to Israeli citizens would be tantamount to normalizing relations between Tunis and the State of Israel. Held every year on the 33rd day of the Jewish Passover, the ritual is the heart of the Tunisian Jewish community which - though very small in number - is well integrated into society. A legend says that the Ghriba Synagogue dates back to when Solomon's Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem and Jews fleeing Palestine found refuge in Djerba in 586 B.C.

    On May 16, over 2,000 Jewish pilgrims are expected to visit the synagogue, the head of Tunisia's Jewish community Pereze Trabelsi said. Every year Djerba welcomes thousands of Jews, most of whom from Israel and Europe, for an event that contributes a great deal to the country's revenues in the religious tourism sector. According to René Trabelsi, head of the event-organizer Royal First Travel tour operator, there will be around a thousand foreign Jews coming to the country for the pilgrimage alongside about a thousand from Tunisia. The pilgrimage, which was suspended in 2011 due to instability during the post-revolutionary phase, has been again since 2012 amid tight security, and no incidents have occurred.

    In the past three years there have been concerns that Salafi extremists may carry out attacks, as they were active during the period in which the country was governed by a tripartite alliance led by Ennahdha, the Islamist party that in recent months left the position to a technocratic government under Mehdi Jomaa. The organizers had initially expected some 4,000 people, but this number was reduced most likely due to the polemics that arose a few weeks ago over potential normalization of relations with the State of Israel, due to the granting of visas to Israeli citizens. The visas were granted for the pilgrimage, even though Tunisia has not had official relations with Israel since 1996 due to its support for the Palestinian cause. The polemics were raised by a political figure and the issue ended up before the Constituent Assembly with a censure motion against two ministers. The motion was later annulled.

    The heated debate that arose most likely discouraged many potential visitors and jeopardized the image of Tunisia, which - said Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou - is instead a ''very open and tolerant country that will, as it always has, welcome the Jewish pilgrims to the Ghriba Synagogue.'' The minister visited Djerba on Tuesday to assess on the ground the situation and to arrange for a tight security presence to prevent potential incidents. (ANSAmed).

    © Copyright ANSA - All rights reserved

    Business opportunities

    The information system of business
    opportunities abroad

    News from Mediterranean