Inside the El-Ghriba synagogue on Djerba (photo:Reuters)
Tunisia's plans to use the annual Lag Ba'Omer pilgrimage to Djerba to boost the country's tourist industry are threatened by a row over whether tourists can enter Tunisia on Israeli passports, The Economist reports:
El- Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba off Tunisia's
Mediterranean coast has for centuries drawn springtime pilgrims. Members
of the country's small Jewish community, which has dwindled since
independence to around 1,600, and expatriates are encouraged to make a
holiday of it. One hotel in Dejrba even lays on a Kosher menu. But the
celebration, due to take place on May 13th-18th, is proving problematic
for Tunisia's government.
To take part, Israeli pilgrims
have long entered Tunisia on European passports or on special
Tunisian-issued travel documents since the two countries have no
diplomatic relations. (Small representative offices in Tel Aviv and
Tunis were closed in 2000 during the second Palestinian intifada.) Last
year, Tunisia's coalition government headed by the moderate Islamist
party, Nahda, was keen to demonstrate support for the Jewish pilgrimage.
Bezalel Raviv, a singer whose parents come from Tunisia, said he was
even allowed to enter on an Israeli passport, having collected a
Tunisian visa in Ramallah.
This year the pilgrimage has
caused controversy for the technocratic government appointed in January.
The dynamic new tourism minister, Amel Karboul, who was lured from her
career as a business consultant in Europe, is popular among Tunisians.
But critics honed in on her CV, which stated she had visited Israel in
2006. She countered that she had gone to give a training session to
young Palestinians, but had been subjected to such lengthy questioning
at Tel Aviv airport that she had turned back.
the constituent assembly, including some Islamists from Nahda as well as
leftists and nationalists, now want to question Ms Karboul over reports
that Israeli pilgrims visiting Djerba will all be allowed to enter on
their Israeli passports. She says the authorities have merely formalised
the previous arrangement of issuing special papers. This sparked
rumours that the government was moving towards a "normalisation" of
relations with Israel, prompting a small demonstration in Tunis on April
The authorities are under pressure from another direction. Miami-based cruise operator Norwegian Cruise Line said on March 11th that
its ships would no longer call at La Goulette port near Tunis after
"Tunisia refused to allow Israel nationals the right to disembark" using
their Israeli passports.
The upset is also ruining the
tourism ministry's plans to use the pilgrimage to attract back
holiday-makers. French tourists are by far the most numerous visitors to
Tunisia, but almost 30% fewer came in 2013 than before the 2011
revolution. The ministry may now be wondering whether it is wise to put
the annual event in the spotlight. A generation ago the pilgrimage was a
relaxed affair, but nowadays it takes place under intense security. A
jihadist suicide bombing at the synagogue in 2002 killed 21 people.
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Tunisia restores Al-Ghriba synagogue (Alla Africa)