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The historic El Ghriba shul in Djerba, Tunisia was attacked on Tuesday night the eve of 23 Teves, set ablaze by molotov cocktails. The attack occurred as violent anti-government protests raged across the country, though not in Djerba itself.
A son of the Gabbai, Elie Trablesi, told the Arabic language al-Quds Al-Arabia newspaper that locals were responsible for the setting the shul on fire.
“There was a failed attempt to burn down a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Djerba through the use of Molotov cocktails, but thank God, no one was hurt and security and civil protection are now doing their duty,” Trabelsi wrote on Facebook.
His father, Peretz Trabelsi, said the assailants had exploited the fact that there was a reduced security presence as police were busy at riots taking place elsewhere.
It appears the Molotov cocktails were thrown from the roof into the yard of the synagogue. Baruch Hashem the fire was quickly extinguished, limiting the damage.
A representative of Tunisia’s Jewish community told AFP that two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the entrance to two schools in the neighborhood, but their interiors were not damaged.
Tunisian authorities said Wednesday that 237 people were arrested and dozens of others injured across the country in recent days, as violent protests against government-imposed price hikes spread to more cities and regions.
The Interior Ministry said that those arrested took part in looting, thefts and arson. Some blocked roads with blazing tires and targeted police stations, municipal depots, stores and banks. 58 members of the security forces were injured and 57 police vehicles damaged. One protester died Monday.
Mainly Muslim Tunisia has a Jewish minority of fewer than 1,800 people. Nearly half of the Jews who remain in Tunisia live in Djerba. Jews have lived in Tunisia for over 2,000 years and Djerba is home to Africa’s oldest synagogue, El Ghriba, located in the village of Hara Sghira.
The current building was constructed in late 19th or early 20th century, but the site is believed to have housed a synagogue for the past 1,900 years.
Thousands of Tunisian Jews from around the world have for centuries made an annual pilgrimage to the Ghriba on Lag Ba’Omer.
According to one tradition, the El Ghriba synagogue was established by a group of Kohanim from the Bais Hamikdash, who supposedly settled on the island immediately after the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash. (The tradition holds that the refugees brought a door and a stone from the destroyed Bais Hamikdash with them.)
On April 11, 2002, just before the pilgrimage, a truck full of explosives was detonated close to the synagogue, killing 21 people of whom 14 were German tourists, five Tunisians and 2 Frenchmen, and wounding over 30. Al Qaeda had claimed responsibility.
It should be noted that the Tunisian Interior Ministry denied that the protester who died was killed as a result of the confrontations with the police. “What we saw yesterday were not demonstrations, but people who break, steal and attack the citizens of Tunisia,” Prime Minister Youssef a-Shahid told the media.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)