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.