Only a few hundred Jews are expected come to the Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba for the annual Lag B’Omer pilgrimage, held on May 6 and 7 this year, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned of “concrete threats” of terror attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets in Tunisia.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Tunisian Interior Minister Najem Gharsalli protested what he termed an unfounded warning, accusing Israel of trying to “damage the reputation of Tunisia.”
He did not specify why Israel would be so hell bent on hurting Tunisian tourism.
On April 11, 2002, a natural gas truck packed with explosives detonated at the front of the Ghriba synagogue, killing 21 and injuring more than 30.
24-year-old Niser bin Muhammad Nasr Nawar was the suicide bomber, aided by a relative. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, organized by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Saif al-Adel and Saad bin Laden.
Responding to the warnings, and eager to allay Jewish tourists’ fears, the Tunisian official press agency cited the president of Tunisia’s Jewish Community Roger Bismuth, who on Tuesday “expressed to President Beji Caid Essebsi the commitment of Tunisia’s Jews to ensure the success of the 2015 edition of the pilgrimage to El Ghriba in Djerba.”
He told journalists he felt safer in Tunisia than he would in Israel these days.
The official report claims Bismuth “underscored the positive impact of this event on the tourist season and the image of Tunisia.”
President Essebsi, who in December 2014 won the first regular presidential election following the Tunisian Revolution, becoming Tunisia’s first freely elected president, said “Tunisia opens its arms to all its sons, protects them and respects their sacred symbols, under the principles of equality of citizens and in the respect of the values of tolerance and peaceful co-existence.”
But few Jews, apparently, are buying his heartfelt message, possibly because it is being drowned out by that still reverberating 2002 gas truck explosion.