‘Just our arrival in Tunisia is news’

Tunisia’s hosting of a UN summit at which foreign minister Silvan Shalom will represent Israel is an opportunity for the country to mend its fences with Jews and Israelis.

“When an Israir charter flight takes off Tuesday morning for Tunis it will be historic not only because it is the maiden trip of an Israeli airline to the North African Arab country. More significantly, it will be carrying a man who left Tunisia, his place of birth, at the age of one and is now returning for the first time as his adopted country’s foreign minister.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom’s trip to Tunisia to attend the UN World Summit on the Information Society will be a success from the moment that he lands.

“The story is simply the fact that we’re going there,” said Ofer Bavli, Shalom’s political advisor. “Just our arrival is news.”(…)

Israelis who immigrated from Tunisia continue to travel to visit their roots and spend Jewish holidays with the small Jewish community which still exists in Djerba and Gabbes.

Shalom will visit Gabbes, his hometown, and Djerba, with his mother, brother, uncle, and wife who are accompanying him on this trip. In Gabbes he will visit his first home, now occupied by a Muslim family. The house was reportedly renovated and painted by the Tunisian government in expectation of the high-ranking official’s visit.

Shalom does not expect diplomatic breakthroughs with other Arab countries this trip, said his advisors. But he does hope to promote them. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have showed more openness recently towards Israel.

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