First Published: 2017-05-12

Tight security for Tunisia Jewish festival
Annual Jewish pilgrimage to Africa's oldest synagogue in Tunisia begins with festive mood despite increased security measures.
Middle East Online

Jewish pilgrims visit the Ghriba synagogue in Tunisian resort island of Djerba

DJERBA - An annual Jewish pilgrimage to Africa's oldest synagogue on Tunisia's Djerba island began on Friday under tight security but in a festive mood.

An AFP journalist saw dozens of pilgrims from the North African country and from France heading to the revered Ghriba synagogue to pray, light candles and write wishes on eggs.

Some celebrated the centuries-old Lag BaOmer festival by sipping glasses of boukha, a liqueur made from figs.

"My parents brought me to Djerba when I was a little boy and each year since I have returned," said Sylvain, who travelled from Paris.

"This year I came with my oldest brother and some friends. We are happy to be here," said the 55-year-old interior decorator.

Organisers expect the two-day festival to attract up to 3,000 visitors, 1,000 more than last year when Tunisia was still reeling after a series of jihadist attacks.

They said pilgrims were expected from Belgium, Spain, the United States and even Israel, despite the government there warning its citizens for the third consecutive year against taking part.

The festival passed off without incident last year and in 2015.

Since its 2011 revolution, Tunisia has experienced an increase in jihadist attacks that have cost the lives of dozens of members of the security forces and 59 foreign tourists.

The country has also been under a state of emergency since November 2015, when a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group killed 12 presidential guards.

"We trust the Tunisian authorities to guarantee security," the head of the synagogue, Perez Trabelsi, said. "I am optimistic."

A helicopter overflew the area and checkpoints were set up around the synagogue which was heavily guarded by police, soldiers and members of the anti-terror brigades.

The number of pilgrims visiting the Ghriba synagogue has fallen sharply since a suicide bombing claimed by Al-Qaeda struck Ghriba just before the 2002 pilgrimage, killing 21 people.

Before then the event attracted as many as 8,000 people a year.

Believed to have been founded in 586 BC by Jews fleeing the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, the Ghriba synagogue has long been a destination for pilgrims, especially for Jews of Tunisian descent.

Some 1,500 Jews live in Tunisia, down sharply from an estimated 100,000 before the country won independence from France in 1956.

 

Britain probes jihadist network amid row with US intelligence

Trump gets rough ride in EU, NATO meeting

Qatari FM says country victim of smear campaign, particularly in US

Probe finds over 100 Mosul civilians killed in US air strike

Faz3a, a local NGO mobilising young people to help Mosul refugees

Turkey says over 4,000 judges, prosecutors dismissed since coup

US-led strikes kill 35 civilians in east Syria

Palestinian president says US should mediate hunger strike

Libya says working closely with Britain over concert attack

EU leaders, Erdogan meet in bid to ease tensions

Myanmar to deport Turkish family wanted for alleged coup links

Iran says it has built third underground missile factory

Saudi minister confident on oil output deal

Egyptians brace for austere Ramadan

Egypt blocks several media websites including Jazeera

IS suicide bomber kills five in Somalia

Israel uneasy over 'crazy' regional arms race

Algeria president replaces Prime Minister

16 civilians dead in coalition strikes near Raqa

4 arrested in Tunisia anti-corruption drive

German MPs call off Turkey visit as tensions fester

Palestinian hunger strike row draws solidarity, controversy

Britain raises terror alert, deploys troops after concert massacre

Qatar probes state news agency hack

At least 20 migrants killed in Mediterranean

Israeli joy at Trump visit lacks substance

Oman evacuates Australian man from Yemen

Bahrain police open fire on Shiite protest, kill five

Turkey arrests hunger strikers on terror charges

Jewish extremists ejected from Aqsa mosque compound

Prominent Egypt rights lawyer detained

Oil producers to extend output curbs at OPEC meeting

NATO aims to break Turkey-Austria partnership deadlock

Tunisia tensions simmer after protester's death

Terrorist bomb attack kills 22 at UK pop concert

Bahrain police raid Shiite sit-in killing one protester

Trump says Israelis, Palestinians ‘can make a deal’

Five dead in Syria car bomb attacks

Syria civilians suffer deadliest month of US-led strikes

US forces raid Al-Qaeda in Yemen, kill seven jihadists

Islamists to join Algeria cabinet despite poor results

Tunisia's 2.1% GDP growth marks economic upturn

Trump meets Palestinian leader in Bethlehem

Istanbul demolishes nightclub targeted in New Year attack

WHO says 315 cholera deaths in Yemen in under one month