Monday, May 19, 2014

  • Monday, May 19, 2014
  • Elder of Ziyon

AP writes:
Despite years of security concerns and a harsh debate over Israeli passports, officials said Sunday the number of Jewish pilgrims taking part in an annual rite in Tunisia is up dramatically for the first time in years.

Rene Trabelsi, who helps organize the trek to the Ghriba synagogue, Africa's oldest, said 2,000 people, including 1,000 from abroad, took part in the three-day pilgrimage ending Sunday.

"The pilgrimage of 2014 has definitely been a success. It is a great day," he said, thanking security forces for protecting the event.

The pilgrimage to the island of Djerba, site of the synagogue, was canceled in 2011 after the revolution and in subsequent years there were only hundreds attending, down from a peak of 7,000 in 2000.

In 2002, al-Qaida militants set off a truck bomb near the synagogue, killing 21 people, mostly German tourists — and badly jolting the now-tiny Jewish community

This year was the first time that Israeli pilgrims have been allowed to use their passports rather than a special document issued by the Tunisian government, prompting an outcry among some lawmakers. Tunisia has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
The Tunisian tourism minister says that 2500 Jews arrived, compared to 350 last year. and hopes that in the coming year some 5000-6000 Jews will come.

Tunisia pulled out all the stops for this event, hoping that a successful pilgrimage by Jews will encourage other tourists to visit the country without fear. Tourism is a small but important component of Tunisia's economy and necessary for it to recover from the setback that occurred after the revolution.

In March, Tunisian authorities did not allow Israeli passengers to come ashore from a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, causing the line to cancel all stops in Tunisia. The government responded with more liberal policies allowing Israelis to come to the country which led to this year's pilgrimage allowing Israeli passport holders to attend for the first time.

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