Sylvain Shalom’s visit to Tunisia was more than an official visit by the Israeli foreign minister – it was an historic, personal pilgrimage. Here are some extracts from a piece in Guysen News.
“In the great synagogue in Tunis, the whole community was assembled. Elie Yishai (member of the Knesset) made a moving speeech in Tunisian Arabic. Dalia Itzik (a government minister) called on the Jews to make aliyah to Jerusalem.
This call to aliyah, made in all sincerity and freedom, was highly symbolic, explained the president of the European Jewish Congress, Pierre Besnainou, who was part of the Israeli delegation. ” We dreamed that an Israeli plane would touch down at Tunis airport and saw it with our very eyes. To dream of the Tunisian president, Ben Ali, visiting Israel is on a par with that dream we had a few years ago. Sometimes dreams come true.
(..) Economic, cultural, scientific and political interests come into play from now on. We have to try to break down the ideology of Jihad by the Muslim world against Israel or the West. Tunisia is today aware of this and has been brave enough to say so.”
Warmly welcomed by the Tunisian authorities, Sylvain Shalom went in search of his family’s past with his mother Myriam, who was returning to the land of her birth 47 years later.
“After the gentleness and timeless charm of white Djerba and its 2,500 year-old synagogue, and its typical Jewish community, Mr Shalom and 50 others, all of Tunisian origin, went to his hometown of Gabes, 370 km south of Tunis, which had been closed to traffic for the occasion.
“In the synagogue in Gabes, where Shalom read Minha, he felt the strongest of emotions during his pilgrimage. Here 50 years earlier, his mother Myriam and his father Shimon Shalom (a bank manager, shot dead during a hold-up in Beersheba in 1964) were married under the Hupa by the rabbi of the little town, today deserted by the Jews.
“Moved to be standing on the same spot where his father and grandfather had prayed the Jewish daily ritual, he said he felt deeply saddened that there was not a single Jew in the town. “They died, they went to Israel or France, but thankfully life goes on in Israel. I know I’m closing a circle,” he said, not without nostalgia. The mayor of Gabes presented him with a certificate of honorary citizenship.
“The Jewish community leader, Roger Bismuth, called Shalom’s visit ‘fantastic’ but some Tunisian bloggers were not impressed. ” We do not accept that a representative of the state of Israel, especially its foreign minister, even one of Tunisian origin, should soil our country’s earth while his country oppresses tortures and kills our brothers and deprives them of their inalienable right to live freely in an independent state”, wrote one.