Some Tunisian Jews nervous about Hiloula security

DJERBA, Tunisia (JTA) – Some Jews in Djerba are expressing concerns about security for the upcoming annual Hiloula Jewish pilgrimage to Tunisia.

Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said recently that his government would work to attract a large Jewish contingent to Djerba’s El Ghriba Synagogue for the annual celebration in May honoring great Jewish sages of centuries past.

In his opening remarks this week at the two-day International Congress of World Tourism in Djerba, Jebali said, "Tunisia is an open and tolerant country that will welcome Jewish pilgrims to El Ghriba, as is customary each year," the Tunisian newspaper Le Temps reported.

But Gadi Uzan, a jeweler in Djerba, said that security fears remain 10 years after an attack on the area’s synagogue.

"If the government can provide a lot of security, then great,” Uzan told JTA. “But if not, I don’t think it’s a good idea. The most important thing is the interest of Tunisia. When El Ghriba was attacked 10 years ago, the event had an impact on tourism in the whole southern region of Tunisia."

In April 2002, al-Qaida terrorists claimed responsibility for a bombing near the synagogue that left 21 people dead. Last year, scores of Tunisians died in the revolution that swept the country’s longtime autocrat, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, from power.

Perez Trabelsi, the president of the El Ghriba Synagogue, said the security situation has improved since last year.

"We did not have a Hiloula last year because the security situation was uncertain and we wanted to respect the martyrs who died during the revolution,” Trabelsi said.

"While the security situation was unstable in the past, now we feel secure. No one is irritating or bothering us,” he said. “I expect the Hiloula to be as big as it was in the years before the revolution.”

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