Hope, high security for Tunisia pilgrims

2013-04-27 07:32
A Tunisian Jewish couple light candles at the Ghriba synagogue during the Ghriba pilgrimage that celebrates the end of Passover in the Tunisian city of Djerba. (Fethi Belaid, AFP)

A Tunisian Jewish couple light candles at the Ghriba synagogue during the Ghriba pilgrimage that celebrates the end of Passover in the Tunisian city of Djerba. (Fethi Belaid, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Djerba - Pilgrims began arriving on Friday at Tunisia's Ghriba synagogue, the oldest in Africa, expressing hope that 2013 would mark a turning point for the ritual despite a rise in Islamist unrest since the 2011 revolution.

The annual pilgrimage, which runs from Friday to Sunday and involves two processions, is taking place amid tight security, with reinforcements deployed around Djerba, the Mediterranean resort island that houses the synagogue.

More than a dozens army trucks were stationed at Ghriba itself, where an al-Qaeda attack in 2002 killed 21 people, with police checkpoints set up around the nearby Jewish neighbourhoods and on the road linking the airport to the tourist zone.

Organisers hope to welcome between 1 000 and 1 500 pilgrims over the weekend, including some 500 foreigners, among them several dozens Israelis for the first time since the revolution.

Security

Before Friday's procession, the faithful entered the 2 500-year-old place of worship barefoot and with their heads covered, to light a candle, take a sip of Boukha, or local fig wine, and receive a blessing from the rabbis.

"Thank God this year is as it should be, not like in the last two years. I came then, but out of solidarity. There were no real festivities," said Meyer Sabbagh, 63, a real estate developer who left Djerba for Paris after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the Yom Kippur war.

"There are police this year, it's great. There are a good dozen at the entrance to the Hara [a Jewish neighbourhood]. My cousin has even come from Israel," said the businessman.

The anticipated number of pilgrims is still far below the 8 000 that came before the 2002 attack, and even the 3 000 that came before the revolution that toppled former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

The event was cancelled that year with the country on edge after the mass uprisings, but it resumed discreetly in 2012 and no incidents were reported.

Coexisting

Friza Haddad, known as Micha, a Tunisian singer and familiar voice at the annual Ghriba ceremonies, said he wanted to believe there was a future for the pilgrimage, on an island where Jews and Muslims have coexisted harmoniously.

"Here is there is no problem, we live as a community. There are Jews here, and Muslims there. But it's only on Djerba that things are like that. In the last two years there have been problems elsewhere" in Tunisia, said the old man.

A wave of attacks by Islamist militants has rocked the country since Ben Ali fled, most notably on the US embassy in Tunis last September.

For all the confidence of the organisers at the extra security, some groups have raised concerns over an apparent rise in anti-Semitic language in Tunisia, accusing the authorities of not taking the problem seriously.

Numbers shrinking

A minority’s support group last month accused the judiciary of failing to bring prosecutions for inciting hatred, a crime punishable by three years in jail.

The group pointed to the case of Ahmed S'hili, an imam from a suburb of the capital who has still not faced investigation after calling on God to eradicate the Jews in a sermon late last year.

The Ghriba ritual, which begins 33 days after the start of the Jewish Passover festival, is a central event in the calendar of Tunisia's Jewish community, which has shrunk to around 1 500 members, from 100 000 before independence in 1956.

According to legend, the synagogue was founded in 586BC by Jews fleeing the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  zine el abidine ben ali  |  religion  |  north africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.