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Religion 2013-10-21

Djerba residents reject fanaticism

By Jamel Arfaoui in Tunis for Magharebia – 21/10/2013

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The Tunisian island of Djerba has a centuries-old reputation for religious tolerance and diversity. The island is home to the Ghriba Synagogue, the oldest in Africa, as well as 18 other synagogues, two Christian churches and dozens of mosques. But recent incidents have undermined the atmosphere of peaceful co-existence, with Jewish residents worried about a deteriorating security situation.

Magharebia sat down with Yamina Thabet, president of the Tunisian Association for the Defence of Minorities, to discuss the situation and learn just how residents of Djerba are standing up to extremists.

Magharebia: Is there an organised campaign against religious minorities or are the recent attacks isolated incidents?

Thabet: The incidents started more than three weeks ago when the Hebrew school in Djerba was attacked by two people who broke down the school's gate while the children were in the inner yard. It should be noted that one of the men was carrying a sharp object to use for violent purposes.

The men attacked the school's synagogue and a confrontation ensued with a citizen of the Jewish faith who had come to take his son home; he tried to calm the assailants down but was attacked by one of them. He told me they made him fear for his life, especially since the other person was waving the sharp object he was holding. After the struggle with the Jewish Tunisian citizen had caused the attackers to break off, he filed a report with the security forces station and outlined the details of the incident to the officers who took down the complaint.

Once he realised the incident was not being handled seriously, the plaintiff informed the police that the school had a video recording system used to capture everything that happens on its premises and could prove what had happened. He warned that the school would publish that video on social networks. The security forces then asked for a copy of the footage and received it; however, none of the suspects were detained and no real action was taken against the attackers.

Furthermore, one of them continued to harass and terrorise citizens of the Jewish faith, physically attacking two girls on the last day of the Jewish holiday of Succoth. He took advantage of the fact that the men were in synagogue. He charged at the Egalitarian Women's Council riding a motorcycle, kicking one girl down to the ground with his foot and beating another one up after having kicked her.

We therefore consider these aggressions a systematic campaign implementing a shameful persecution against Jewish citizens that is encouraged by a hidden force aiming to force them out of their country.

Magharebia: How did the island's residents react to these transgressions?

Thabet: We have encountered disapproval on the part of the Muslim residents of the island. They have conveyed to us their condemnation of these acts, which to them are strange and inconceivable, especially the official authorities' idleness in handling this sensitive issue which violates the basic rights of Tunisian citizens.

Magharebia: And how have politicians dealt with this issue?

Thabet: We have witnessed all components of the political scene resorting to bickering and status wars and neglecting citizens' most basic issues. As a rule, political forces should pay attention and be aware of what is happening in the depth of society, because the foundations of a democratic society are rooted in the social basis and the elite cannot diminish it to mere stances in passing. Some Jewish citizens in Djerba even told me they were fed up with the rituals of political pilgrimage of certain governmental figures for a photo opportunity in festivities, as if they were in a nature reserve or some endangered species.

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    بشار 2013-10-30

    This talk is not founded.

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    صدام العباري 2013-10-29

    Jews are the source of strife.

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    عمد سالم 2013-10-28

    Stop lies and calumnies! No one targets "religious minorities" in Tunisia. If they are, they aren't "Islamists" but red terrorists in the Union of Abbassi and front of Hemma. You want to stir afresh the "issue of Jews in Tunisia" to serve Zionism. This is not the first time but you saw that the "conditions" are suitable for what coup leaders do.

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    اسد 2013-10-27

    You have your religion and I have my religion.

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    عبد الحميد السوداني 2013-10-27

    O Lord protect this safe country and keep away from it all forms of extremism, hatred and discrimination! If the best hobby of sons of Zion is to usurp Palestinian territories, displace and kill its oppressed people, we are higher than to be like them. Tunisian Jews are our brothers and Tunisian citizens like us. For centuries, peaceful co-existence was the basis of life in this country. Therefore, I say to these backward people, stop your hideous acts! By God you will lose! I address now security representatives, by God, do your duty and protect our citizens because they are really citizens like me and you. What's wrong if they are of a different religion. It is their right and our duty to protect them because they are a minority. Of course if law is decisive, anyone who commits a crime should be held accountable. Be wise! Respect minorities whether they are ethnic or religious. Our religion advises us to do so. May God guide everyone!

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    Nabil Snaia 2013-10-26

    Salam alikum. God alone controls this universe not their chairs or their rules. The rule is to God. O people hold on together to the rope of God, His messenger and righteous Salaf (ancestors), they are the followers of the messenger, peace and blessings of God be upon him. Islam ordered us to act in order to reform the Ummah not fight for chairs and shed blood. Our religion is a religion of action not fight for chairs.

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  7. Anonymous thumb

    جربي 2013-10-26

    Rumours, rumours, rumours...

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    نفيسة 2013-10-25

    There is misinformation and distortion of the truth in this article. I live in this island and haven't noticed what you are talking about. If it happens, these are individual acts which can happen in any society even between people of the same faith. Please make a thorough research!

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    ليلى 2013-10-25

    The protection of minority rights should be stipulated in the Tunisian constitution because what's coming is unknown.

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    Anouar Jendli 2013-10-24

    This is not true. I am from Djerba. There is nothing like this happening.

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    انور الجندلي 2013-10-24

    I hail from Djerba. This is not true at all. I have Jewish friends. I asked them and they said they have no idea about any attack. Quite the opposite, they consider that their current situation is better than the era of Ben Ali. If you want to verify this, you can get in touch with me and I will have you talk directly to a Jewish Tunisian. Thank you!

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      assouline 2013-11-7

      Thank you! This is very comforting.

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    الباجي بن يونس 2013-10-24

    Stop misinforming the public opinion and distorting the reputation of the island and its sons with all their religions and ideas. They have been co-existing in social peace for decades or centuries. Such attempts to sow strife won't bear fruit on Djerba Island.

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