Jewish pilgrimage organisers in Tunisia scrap celebrations over Gaza war

Community in North African country say they cannot celebrate while people are dying

Djerba synagogue festivities in 2022. The pilgrimage to Africa's oldest synagogue draws hundreds of Jews from Europe, the US and Israel to the Tunisian island. Reuters
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The organisers of an annual Jewish pilgrimage in Tunisia have cancelled its accompanying celebrations because of the Israel-Gaza war.

Perez Trabelsi, head of committee of the Ghriba Grand Synagogue, announced on Friday that the pilgrimage to the temple on Djerba island will be limited to the basic rituals conducted inside the temple.

No public celebrations around the island are going to take place.

“How do we celebrate when people die every day,” Mr Trabelsi told Reuters.

The pilgrimage to Africa's oldest synagogue draws hundreds of Jews from Europe, the US and Israel to Djerba, a major holiday resort off Tunisia's south, about 500km from the capital, Tunis.

It is also attended by the local Jewish community, estimated to number 1,500 and one of the largest remaining Jewish populations in North Africa.

Since the beginning of the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 people so far, Tunisian activists have been calling on authorities to ensure that this year’s Ghriba pilgrimage would only be attended by the local Jewish community members.

However, both Tunisian authorities and the pilgrimage organising committee have not said whether non-Tunisians and those holding dual Tunisian-Israeli citizenship would be granted entrance to the country.

The dispute over the annual religious ceremony comes only a year after a naval national guard member shot dead five people – two civilians and three security personnel – near the synagogue on the island of Djerba.

Jews have lived in Tunisia since Roman times.

Both Muslims and Jews in Tunisia and specifically in Djerba consider the pilgrimage as an opportunity to celebrate peaceful co-existence and to counter religious prejudice.

“Tunisia and Djerba will remain a land of tolerance, co-existence and peace,” the synagogue committee said.

Updated: April 20, 2024, 2:51 PM