Tunisian rebels arrested by the French in the early 1950s
The so-called Jasmine revolution in Tunisia recalls earlier upheavals in the country's history. The year 1952 saw a fierce power struggle between the French colonial government and the nationalists, led by Habib Bourguiba of the Neo-Destour party, who four years later became independent Tunisia's first president and 'father of the nation'.
JSS Blog has an interesting post, based on half an article in Noar, a Jewish newspaper of the time. It demonstrates clearly how the Jews found themselves squeezed between competing interests.
The Tunisians called a general strike against the French after they had arrested Bourguiba and other leaders of his faction. They put pressure on the Jews to close their shops in solidarity. However, the French authorities, unleashing the full brutality of the Foreign Legion on the Tunisians, wanted the Jewish shops to remain open. The police gave the Jews assurances they would protect them. On the other hand, the Tunisians threatened reprisals and violence if the Jews kept their shops open. The Jews were caught between a rock and a hard place.
An excited and angry crowd leaving a mosque was all it needed to disrupt the fragile peace. In Constantine, Algeria, in 1934 a similar situation developed: a crowd incited against innocent Jews by a fabricated pretext turned on them - and several were murdered.
The unnamed interviewee in the press article explains that (unarmed) Jewish vigilantes were instrumental in evacuating Jews from the Arab quarters and Mellahs (where the general strike was enforced) of Tunisian towns to the European quarters, where shops remained open.
However, these measures did not prevent Jewish shops being looted in Kairouan on 25 January; two Jews gravely wounded in disturbances in Sousse on 26 January; a Jew murdered in Mednine in the South on 28 January; and Jewish shops attacked and looted in Tunis on 25 January 1952.
The interviewee criticises the Jewish community leadership for being unprepared, selfish and divided. He thought that grassroots groups and organisations were much better equipped to deal with the situation.
(So what's new?)
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