Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki has visited an exhibition on the history of the country’s synagogues held in Tunis and reassured local community leaders of the important place that Jews have in the nation’s history.
“Let me reiterate that Tunisia is the land of peace, the land of coexistence, the land of brotherhood, a country that rejects all kinds of discrimination between its citizens – whether racial, religious, or sectarian,” Marzouki said according to a translation provided by MEMRI. “We are proud of all our Jewish citizens, who have played an important role in the history of this country.”
The Tunisian leader, who visited the exhibit on Sunday, the Jewish festival of Purim, went on to explain that the country draws its culture from many influences, not just Arab-Islamic.
“I always say that we have a shared and pluralistic identity in our country,” he said. “The Arab-Islamic identity is the basis, but in our history there was a Jewish Tunisia, a Christian Tunisia, an Amazigh Tunisia, and Phoenician Tunisia… All these Tunisias are part and parcel of our culture and civilization, and we should be proud of them. So, happy Purim, and thank you for this initiative. Carry on, and I wish you all success.”
According to the AllAfrica news site the exhibition was organized by “Dar El Dhekra” (house of memory), an organization that promotes aspects of Jewish history in Tunisia, and in particular architecture.
There are currently about 2,000 Jews living on the island of Djerba, location of the El Ghriba synagogue, which dates to 586 BC. An annual Jewish pilgrimage to the island has begun to regain popularity since numbers fell drastically after 2002, when an al-Qaeda car bomb killed 21 people near the synagogue, and again after the Tunisian revolution of 2011. However, Jews have been slowly returning to the island, which boasts a rich Jewish history going back thousands of years to the First Temple period.
Earlier this month Israeli passengers on a Norwegian cruise ship were prevented from disembarking and told they were not welcome in Tunisia when the vessel stopped there. However, Tunisian Tourism Minister Amel Karboul later said that Israeli tourists may enter the country if they first obtain the appropriate paperwork.