For Tunisia’s Jews, both hope and fears after the Arab Spring

May 4, 2012

(People attend a Lag Ba-Omer celebration at El Ghiba synagogue in Djerba island May 21, 2011. REUTERS/Anis Mili )

In the Jewish quarters on the Tunisian island of Djerba, only menoras or Hebrew letters painted in blue against the whitewashed walls distinguish a Jewish home from the Muslim family living next door.

Mainly Muslim Tunisia is home to one of North Africa’s largest Jewish communities. Though they now number less than 1,800 people, Jews have lived in Tunisia since Roman times.

The El Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, home to most of Tunisia’s Jews, is built on the site of a Jewish temple that is believed to date back almost 1,900 years and attracts pilgrims each year.

But more than a year after Tunisia’s revolution ousted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and sparked uprisings around the region, uncertainty over the democratic transition and threats by some Salafi Islamists have begun to raise fears that decades of peaceful co-existence could begin to erode.

Sitting in his jewelry shop in Djerba’s covered souk, David Bitan said life for Tunisia’s Jews was changing, much as it has for all Tunisians since the revolt. Business had yet to recover and the instability that dogs Tunisia affected them too.

“We are not afraid of Salafis who talk too much. We’re afraid of those who say nothing, then do something,” said Bitan.

“Things have changed since the revolution. Before, people were afraid of the police. Now, we are under pressure. The police is weak, so racism is increasing. People are not afraid.”

Read the full story by Lin Noueihed and Tarek Amara here.
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