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Libyan Jews Plan Return to Tripoli Hoping They’ll Meet Gadhafi This Time

October 20, 2004
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A group of exiled Libyan Jews living in Italy did not meet as expected with Col. Muammar Gadhafi during a four-day visit to Tripoli last week. But they look forward to doing so in a follow-up visit planned for next month.

Delegation member Angelo Mantin said the six-member delegation, and probably several additional people, were scheduled to return to Tripoli Nov. 22-23 and other visits could follow.

“We had hoped to see Gadhafi and thought that we would, but he was extremely busy, and then Ramadan started,” Mantin told JTA. “He sent his right-hand man to us to give us his excuses. We’ll see Gadhafi another time.”

JTA and other news media had reported the meeting took place Oct. 11 after sources not in Libya confirmed that it had happened.

Saadi Gadhafi, the Libyan leader’s son, authorized a news release, issued by a Milan public relations firm, saying the meeting had taken place.

That meeting was apparently canceled at the last minute and rescheduled for Oct. 14, at which point the meeting was canceled again.

Mantin, who worked for two years to organize last week’s visit, said he was delighted with the reception the delegation received in the homeland they and thousands of other Jews had been forced to flee in 1967 because of anti-Semitic riots and violence.

“They gave us VIP treatment from A to Z,” he said. “We met senior officials, were hosted at dinners — and even were provided with four big Mercedes.”

In addition, he said, Libyan authorities offered the exiled Jews the possibility of regaining Libyan passports and having duel Italian-Libyan citizenship.

Mantin said that during their talks with officials, the group raised the issue of compensation for property and possessions.

Libyan officials, he said, advised them to draw up lists that could be submitted to authorities.

“So we are going to do that,” he said.

Mantin, born in Tripoli in 1934, said the return trip was an emotional experience for him.

“It was a historic event,” he said.

The trip was viewed as part of Gadhafi’s general new rapprochement with the international community.

About 36,000 Jews lived in Libya in 1945. The vast majority moved to Israel after the birth of the Jewish state.

By 1967, only 6,000 Jews lived in the country, most of them in Tripoli. A number of them bore Italian passports, as Libya had been an Italian colony before World War II. Many non-Jewish Italians also lived in the country.

After the outbreak of the Six-Day War, anti-Jewish riots erupted in Tripoli. Jewish shops and homes were attacked, and some Jews who braved the streets to look for food were killed.

Jewish community leaders asked the government of King Idris to allow the entire Jewish population to leave the country “temporarily,” and the government agreed — urging Jews to depart.

In the space of one month, thanks to an airlift and with the aid of Italian naval ships, all but a handful of the Jews were transferred to Rome, leaving behind their homes, businesses and most of their possessions.

Some 4,000 moved on to Israel, the United States and elsewhere and the remaining 2,000 integrated into the Rome Jewish community.

Mantin said that so far, Gadhafi’s overtures only appear to apply to the exiled Jews living in Italy.

The exodus of Libya’s Jews foreshadowed an even bigger exodus of Italians just three years later. Gadhafi deposed the king and took power in 1969, and in 1970 he expelled 20,000 Italian citizens living in the country.

Earlier this month Gadhafi agreed that the expelled Italians would be allowed to visit their one-time home.

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