DJERBA, Tunisia (JTA) – On a visit to a synagogue that had been bombed 10 years ago, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said Tunisia is committed to the security of its Jews and that they are equal citizens under the law.
Marzouki also said he had invited a group of Jewish school children to visit his office at the Carthage Presidential Palace. The president has recently invited groups of school children to his office as a way of opening the Tunisian presidency to the public following last year’s revolution.
Marzouki made his remarks as part of a ceremony on Wednesday to mark the 10-year anniversary of the 2002 Al Qaeda truck bombing attack on the El Ghriba synagogue in Djerba. Twenty-one people were killed in the attack.
Some Jews in the country have been unsettled by demonstrations in Tunisia over the last three months in which ultra-conservative religious Salafi groups with alleged ties to Al Qaeda called on Muslims to kill or wage war against Jews.
Jewish community leaders applauded Marzouki’s visit to the synagogue and said they were optimistic about the future of Tunisia’s 2,600-year-old Jewish community. Tunisia has an estimated 1,500 Jews.
“It is a blessing to live together as Tunisians. Muslims and Jews, our bonds challenge the hatred of the Salafists,” said Perez Trabelsi, president of the El Ghariba synagogue and the Jewish community of Hara Segira, Djerba. “The day-to-day living situation for Jews has not changed since the revolution, and we hope it will never change. We don’t live in fear.”
Each year, Jewish pilgrims from France, Israel and elsewhere come to the El Ghriba synagogue to celebrate the yahrzeit, or anniversary of the death, of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the 2nd-century Torah scholar and author of the Zohar. This year, the pilgrimage will fall on May 9 and 10.
“The tourism season is coming soon and many Jews are interested in visiting Tunisia,” said Trabelsi’s son, Rene, who owns a kosher hotel and resort in nearby Sidi Mansour, Djerba as well as a Paris-based travel agency that organizes Jewish religious tours in Tunisia.
“I am sure the government will put an end to these hateful speeches that we have seen in videos,” he added.