More than 1,000 Israelis, mostly of Tunisian origin, headed for the island of Djerba on Thursday on a Jewish pilgrimage to the oldest synagogue in Africa, the Ghriba.
Another 300 had cancelled their trip when the private Tunisian airline Karthago decided not to run direct flights from Israel.
The pilgrims came via Malta, Turkey and France. Visitor numbers are up since 2002 when an Al-Qaeda attack on the Ghriba synagogue claimed 21 lives, 14 of them German tourists. Security was in evidence across the island, but particularly around the synagogue.
‘Djerba has become the world centre for tolerance’, said Rene Trabelsi, son of the Djerba Jewish community president.
Agence France Presse reported that the Tunisian Jewish community had diminished considerably over the years from a peak of 100,000 to 2,000. Jews had left for France and Israel, but AFP did not say why.
Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, has been invited to Tunisia for a conference in November. Opposition groups have called for protest meetings in the last few weeks but these were banned by the authorities.