Travels of an Israeli in Libya

With thanks: Qumran Qumran

I’ll bet there are few stranger sounds than an Israeli bellowing, with gusto, Allah hu’akbar to a group of trigger-happy rebels in Libya, as he files a video report for the folks back home.

You can’t blame Tsur Shezaf for trying to establish his pro-rebel, nay Islamist, credentials.

If they had found out where he came from, Lord knows what could have befallen him. As it happened, Shezaf had a trouble-free trip in Libya, taking photos of Jewish sites. (The last Israeli who tried to photograph Jewish sites was not so lucky – and spent five months being tortured in one of Gaddafi’s jails).

But we are now in the intoxicating Arab Spring, the word Hurriya (freedom) on everyone’s lips, as Shezaf pursues his search for his family’s Libyan roots. The man he asks for directions to the Great Synagogue in Tripoli confides that the Jews were Libya’s original inhabitants. Another lets slip that his grandfather was a Jew – his name was Bar-Shalom – thus testifying to the numbers of Libyan Jews who had converted to Islam. Tzur Shezaf was himself familiar with the story of the last Jewess of Libya, who had died two years ago, having converted to Islam, but still had relatives in Israel.

Shezaf’s breezy ride through Tripoli threatens to become a little bumpy when he starts investigating the Jewish cemetery at the behest of Reuven Pedatzur of the Libyan- Jewish organisation in Israel. Much of the cemetery was reduced to ruin when Gaddafi extended a coastal road. A man stops him to check what this intruder is doing, taking pictures. You can never be too careful in these uncertain times. Is he Jewish? After a slight hesitation, Shezaf admits, for the first time during his Libyan trip, that he is. You could almost hear the sign of relief when the man decides not to lynch him, but affirms that as a Jew Shezaf was welcome to carry on taking pictures – it was after all his own history, and by the way, Gaddafi’s rule has not left the Muslim cemeteries in better nick.

Another interesting video from the intrepid Shezaf. (Jeremy Bowen, eat your heart out!) here

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