Tunisian Police Up Security For Jews Of Djerba After International Outcry

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A delegation of Rabbanim of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) on a visit to Djerba. (Photo: Eli Itkin)

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After two members of the Jewish community in Derba were violently attacked in recent days and security officials reacted with indifference, international pressure eventually resulted in Tunisian authorities announcing an increased police presence in the Jewish community as of Thursday, Kikar H’Shabbat reported.

Several days ago, the 10-year-old son of one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Djerba was severely beaten and a few days prior to that a 23-year-old Jewish woman was attacked. The perpetrators tried to choke her and it was only due to the intervention of passersby that her life was saved. Tunisian security forces called to the scene responded to the incident with indifference, writing it off as an attempted robbery.

Senior members of the Jewish community have reported that they feel a change in the atmosphere and Jews are afraid to walk the streets.

The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) told Kikar earlier this week: “We’re anxiously following the serious harassment against members of the Jewish community and are very disturbed by the apathy of the police and Tunisian authorities.”

“The Tunisian government is the guarantor for the safety and security of the country’s Jews,” CER President Rav Pinchas Goldschmidt stated. “‘We demand that the authorities strengthen security for the members of the Jewish community and its institutions and ensure their safety and security.”

As reported in a previous article by Kikar, three months ago, following an international outcry regarding the inflammatory words of Tunisian President Kaid Saied against the Jews in his country, Saied spoke with the Chief Rabbi of Djerba, HaGaon HaRav Chaim Bitan, and apologized for his statements.

Saied had publicly accused the Jews of responsiblity for Tunisia’s instability, using them as a scapegoat for the violent demonstrations and looting that had been taking place in the city due to the economic situation.

Saied subsequently released a statement saying: “The President clarified in a phone conversation with the Chief Rabbi Chaim Bitan that the Jews of Tunisia are citizens who benefit from the care and protection of the Tunisian state like all other citizens. This right cannot be challenged.”

The unique Jewish community in Tunis, led by HaRav Bitan, is concentrated in the “Great Jewish Quarter” on the island of Djerba, which is populated entirely by frum Jews. The Jews have lived on the island continuously for over 2,500 years, after the Kohanim serving in the Bais Hamikdash HaRisohon escaped from Yerushalayim during the destruction wrought by Nevuchadnetzer. One of the community’s shuls, the El Ghriba shul, has been in continuous use for over 2,000 years.

El Ghriba shul in Djerba, Tunisia. (By Chapultepec, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The island came to be known by many Jews as the island of the Kohanim as to this day, an unusually high percentage of Jews on the island claim status as Kohanim, and a genetic link has been confirmed by DNA testing.

Genetic tests have shown that the vast majority of male Jews in Djerba who claim to be Kohanim have a common male ancestor that matches that of nearly all of European and Middle Eastern Jews who claim to be Kohanim.

There was another influx of Jews to Derba during the Spanish Inquisition and by 1940, there were approximately 100,000 Jewish-Tunisians. But after World War II, the Jewish population on the island declined significantly due to emigration to Israel and France. As of 2011, the Jewish permanent resident community on the island numbered about 1,000.

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)