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A View of the New Tunisia from Boulder

Note from a Jew who left Tunisia in 1967 after a Jewish presence of more than 2,000 years in the country:

A few comments regarding the invitation from the interim president of Tunisia Moncef Marzouki for the Tunisian Jews to return to Tunisia.

First, it’s still not clear that Marzouki did indeed offer this invitation. Following a meeting with the chief Rabbi Haim Bittan, this article came out in the news with probably an interpretation coming from Haim Bittan.

What is also not clear, is under what conditions the Jews could come back.

  • Can we go back with our spouses and descendants?
  • Can we go back and ask for restitution for everything we lost when we fled in 1967 and even before (including real estate and other assets we left behind)?

It’s interesting to see the recent declaration of the Ennahdha party on a new Califate; a system of governement founded on the Sharia law which is going to be part of the new constitution and will maintain for Jews and non-Muslims the status of Dhimmis (in reality lower-class citizens).  We Jews slowly emerged from the old Caliphate system at the end of the 19th century after the arrival of the French, who intruduced a protectorate status to Tunisia and… some sort of protection for us.

What is not said openly is that the new regime will not allow Israelis (of Tunisian origin) to come back as tourists or pilgrims.

To conclude: It’s so unrealistic to think that Jews who have been expelled (about 100,000 then, which could be easily double that number today) will be welcome back in Tunisia. It can only be seen as a political move: first to demonstrate to the West that Ennahdha is not a real threat; second to answer to Silvan Shalom, Israeli deputy who invited the remaining 1,500 Jews, in danger, to come to Israel, knowing the Islamist turn the country is taking; and third to “balance” the Palestinian request of right of return.

But let me dream and let me believe that it is an opening to a new era, with an apology to the population of Jews for the pogroms we have been victims of, restitution of everything we have left behind, and offering the friendship of the Tunisian government and population to Jews all around the globe, including in Israel.



Ed. Note:  Sylvain Hayoun was born and grew up in Tunisia, fleeing with his family to Paris at age 17 in 1967 after the Six Day War.  

About Sylvain Hayoun

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  1. I was in Tunisia in 67.

    NO Jew was expelled from Tunisia let alone the taking place of a "pogrom" there. And I dare and challenge Hayoun to prove otherwise.

  2. Hayoun is trying to portray a very negative image of Tunisia by using exaggerations and plain un-truths. To even suggest that Tunisia would somehow return to Sharia law is laughable, it seems like Hayoun is getting his information on world politics from Shawn Hannity. Tunsian Jews are living very well and will continue to do so. Only about 10 people have taken up Silvan Shalom's offer to emmigrate to Israel, and that despite the fact that the average income and living standard is much higher in Israel. That speaks for itself. Tunisia is a very exceptional country and does not fit the "Foxian" mold of an Arab country.

  3. Indeed Hayoun is using exaggerations and plain un-truths to portray a negative image of Tunisia and Tunisian. No Jew was expelled from Tunisia. Hayoun forgot the fact that many jews have been saved by Tunisian from the nazi during the II world war. The story of Abdelwahhab (Tunisia) which is recounted by Robert Satloff, in his book Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from The Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands (PublicAffairs, 2006) is one of them. Before spreading her untrues Hayoun should read the history of the jew in Tunisia and the good relations they had with Muslim.

  4. Wayne Seltzer

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-… :
    "During the Six-Day War, Jews were attacked by rioting Arab mobs, and synagogues and shops were burned. The government denounced the violence, and President Habib Bourguiba apologized to the Chief Rabbi. The government appealed to the Jewish population to stay, but did not bar them from leaving. Subsequently, 7,000 Jews immigrated to France."
    http://www.sefarad.org/publication/lm/045/8.html :
    "Mob violence broke out in Tunis on 5 June 1967, the day Israel attacked its neighbours. One hundred shops were systematically looted and burnt; cars belonging to Jews were overturned and set ablaze; forty scrolls of the Law were taken out of the main synagogue by the pillagers and were desacrated before they were burnt; the main synagogue was itself set on fire until it lay a smouldering ruin, the police having stood by and watched. President Bourguiba made an impassioned plea on radio and television to stop the rioting, apologising to the Jewish community and promising to punish the perpetrators. Under these conditions, the Jews of Tunisia derived little comfort from the Government's expressions of regret and abandoned any idea that there could be a future in remaining in the country."
    http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=2… :
    "Starting in the 1940s, Jews were subject to official state persecution, and several pogroms took place.
    Between 1942 and 1967, the number of Jews in the country plummeted from 100,000 to 20,000. Now, some 1,500 Jews live there: 1,000 in Jerba and the rest mostly in Tunis."

  5. Dear “Surprised”, Gil, and Mehdi,

    In view of the comments I realized that I need to be more clear to everyone who doesn’t know about the history of Jews in Tunisia, and assertions in these three comments necessitate that I explain the relevant history so that, as Georges Santayana says, we avoid repeating past mistakes. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

    First I want to state that I am not a scholar and don’t pretend to write history. I just want to give a glimpse of my life in Tunisia as a Jew, the way I lived it until October 1967, before my family fled to France.

    I have no animosity for the Tunisian people despite the hardships that I have been through, but I question the comments that my view is false? Biased? Exaggerated? When I basically explain how my life was in Tunisia and the situation that I have actually lived? Do “Surprised”, Gil and Mehdi want to rewrite my story and history in the way I lived or imply that I am lying?

    “Surprised” was in Tunisia in 1967, I am interested to know on what street he lived or where he was in June 1967 when the great synagogue was burned as well as the Torah scrolls, (2 blocks from where I lived), the “Jewish” stores were burned as well as the “Jewish” cars. I lived at Courbet Street near the Lafayette quarter, and I saw my mother in the street running, trying to escape from the mob, the Jews were a target of a pogrom, and unfortunately, to my disappointment, I saw some neighbors pointing out to the mob Jewish stores and cars to be burned. I remember every minute of these moments.

    When you are a target for repression, even when not openly state-sponsored, you don’t see any peaceful future for you and your kids, you don’t have much choice than to try to leave the country. When my parents made this choice in October, 1967, we couldn’t take more than one suitcase and 50 Dinards (probably equivalent to $100). Necklaces or anything in gold was confiscated at the port of departure. We closed our apartment door leaving everything in it.

    After Tunisia’s independence in 1956, we were more and more the targets of rejection and daily humiliation by the administration and the people. One example- my father, who was an electrician, couldn’t get the material he needed, but the next client behind him, an Arab, got it. Many times I had to fight getting out of school, against groups targeting Jewish groups. The Jewish council was abolished by the government, synagogues were destroyed and cemeteries where eminent rabbis were buried were destroyed for “urban renewal.” I saw that with my own eyes…

    The Tunisian people are among the most moderate people in the Arab world, but Tunisia is not immune to an Islamic group like Ennahda hijacking the future of Tunisia with sharia law and the dream of a caliphate system. This system before the French protectorate in 1881 had been responsible for our status, Jews and Christians, as dhimmis, for centuries, and the Jews were living in a ghetto closed at night and couldn’t mingle with the population. Many acts of humiliation to the Jews were applied like the “shtaka”, a public slap to the Jewish representative every year, and many other degrading examples.

    I have neither agenda nor desire to portray Tunisia, at the time, in a different way than the way I experienced my life before leaving in 1967, and for today I wish the best future for Tunisia and the Tunisians, with a successful secular and democratic, stable government.

    But I am worried…

    I challenge and will meet to discuss with anyone who challenges the story of the reality of the life we lived as Jews in Tunisia after the independence.

    To conclude, I want to reiterate that my only motivation is to clarify a piece of history I lived, without any intention of hurting my Tunisian and Arab friends, or of distorting the reality of my life, our life, my parents’ history or mine. But I will not let other people, who may have an agenda, rewrite my own history.

    For all my friends and Tunisian brothers I wish great Khif.


    Tunisian proverb: Ma I h’Ache El Zamra Ken El I Afech Alia – The burns are only felt by the one walking on live embers.

  6. Thank you Sylvain for sharing this insight into you life. The warmth you still feel for your homeland and it's people emanates through your words. Don't give up on your dream. The saying on Wall street is when everyone is selling, it's time to buy and vice versa. Just when people want to believe that hate pervades and a shift in consciousness is impossible….