Jewish pilgrimage passes peacefully in Tunisia despite Israeli warning
Tunis - Hundreds defied a warning from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of possible terrorist attacks and made the annual Jewish pilgrimage on Tunisia’s island of Djerba.
In a festive atmosphere, Jewish pilgrims, including some 500 visitors from France, Israel, Italy and Britain, prayed and carried out rituals, including writing wishes on eggs and drinking of fig brandy before being blessed by a rabbi at the Ghriba synagogue, believed to be the oldest in Africa.
Before the May 6th-7th festival, Netanyahu said Israel had learned of “concrete threats” of terror attacks against Jewish or Israeli targets in Tunisia. But Tunisian Interior Minister Najem Gharsalli rejected the warning as unfounded and accused Israel of trying to “damage the reputation of Tunisia”.
“Tunisia is a safe country and Djerba, too, is a safe city. Visitors from the world over are welcome,” he said.
Tight security around the island showed Tunisian authorities were taking no chances, however, especially after the March 18th attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 21 foreign tourists and a Tunisian policeman.
In 2002, the Ghriba synagogue was the target of a suicide bombing that cost the lives of 19 people, mostly European tourists. Al-Qaeda said it carried out the attack.
Tunisian authorities saw the pilgrimage as a key test of their ability to ensure the security of visitors they are trying to lure back in the wake of the Bardo attack, which badly hurt the tourism sector.
Tunisian tourism authorities have been trying to reassure European tour operators but visitor numbers have declined since the 2011 uprising.
Tourism accounts for 7% of Tunisia’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Nearly 60% of French people were concerned about security in Tunisia after the Bardo attack, a survey showed. France is Tunisia’s top trading partner and has more tourists visiting Tunisia than any other country.