Jewish pilgrimage passes peacefully in Tunisia despite Israeli warning

Friday 15/05/2015
The egg ritual

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.