“Don’t visit Libya!” – that’s the advice Raphael Luzonhas for any Libyan Jew contemplating returning to his birthplace.
Luzon should know – he spent the best part of a week in prison last summer at the mercy of the Libyan authorities.
It was not a pleasant experience for the Benghazi-born Jew, who holds British nationality and had made several incident-free trips to Libya under the Gaddafi regime. He was released thanks to the intervention of Italian politicians and Robert Halfon, MP– whose grandfather was from Libya.
But matters could have been even worse for the Israeli film crew, led by Emmanuel Rosen, who left their passports in Rome and posed as a European TV team in a bid to film Luzon’s trip to Libya. They had two narrow escapes – the second time, they were interrogated for four hours – but before they could be implicated in Luzon’s arrest, the crew made for Tripoli and caught the next ‘plane out.
Hebrew-speakers can see Rosen’s documentary HaHistabchut be’ Luv. There is an English version called ‘Game over’, not yet on general release.
‘Game over’ is an appropriate title: the interlude that followed the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, with its promise of freedom, democracy, women’s, human and minority rights, turned out to be disappointingly short.
The game was over before it even began for the Israeli film crew, who ran an enormous risk of arrest, imprisonment and torture during their stay in Libya if their cover had been blown.
The game was over for Raphael Luzon, who, like David Gerbibefore him, discovered that his very Jewishness was a provocation.
The game was even over for Majdoline Abaidi, a human rights campaigner featured in the film. Majdoline told the BBC only last week (viewable at 35 mins into Newsnight for the next day or so) how she was beaten black and blue and forced to seek asylum in Britain.
One of the most moving moments of the film was Luzon and Rosen’s visit to Yefren, a Berber town which once housed a Jewish community and still has a synagogue.
There they met a tearful elderly lady, once known as Sarah, who at 16 was forcibly married to a Muslim and converted to Islam. She had nine children. Some 75 years later, she still remembered the words of the Shema Yisrael.
Sarah had only once met her Jewish family since their departure for Israel in 1948: in Jordan a few years ago.
Her nieces in Israel told her tragic story: the Jewish community in Yefren was threatened with a pogrom unless Sarah agreed to marry the Muslim.
Let all those who pretend that Jews and Muslims lived together historically in perfect harmony hear Sarah’s story. At 16, it was ‘game over’ for Sarah, who willingly sacrificed herself for her community.