Dozens of Tunisia Jews consider leaving as violence spreads

Some members of Tunisia’s Jewish community are thinking about traveling to France, while others are considering immigrating to Israel; 20 Israeli tourists return home safely.

Dozens of Jews in Tunisia are considering leaving the country, given the widespread violence that has erupted across the North African nation after its president fled last Friday.

Meanwhile, the 20 Israeli tourists visiting Tunisia at the time the disturbances broke out returned to Israel on Sunday night. Their vacation to the mountains of the Muslim state turned into a flight from a national uprising.

Given the current state of affairs, some members of Tunisia’s Jewish community are thinking about traveling to France for some time, while others are considering immigrating to Israel.

“We see what they are showing on television. Every once in a while they stop some cars and search them, they arrest some people and there are some people left dead by the cars,” said Daniel Cohen, a resident of Tunis.

Chai (Hamus ) Mazuz, a resident of the island of Djerba, says the situation has improved now that the army and the police have brought the rioting under control.

“Now there is a little shooting, but with the help of God everything will be fine. Today there were no incidents of arson in our area, and luckily the security around the Jewish community is very strict,” Mazuz said.

“I called my Muslim friend and they are also afraid of the shootings being carried out by [ousted dictator Zine al-Abidine] Ben Ali’s people and the riots,” he added.

“If the situation continues as it is now, we will definitely have to leave or immigrate to Israel,” Daniel said. “Nothing is certain in Tunisia today. The country is on the verge of crisis – [it has] no security, no food, no work.”

The group of 20 Israeli tourists that had been visiting Tunisia was apparently stopped on the way to Djerba, after breaking curfew. Menachem Abadi, the group’s tour guide, said they feared for their lives.

“The policemen themselves looked like the phalanges [Lebanese militia]. They held their loaded guns without safeties on, and held them over their heads with just one hand. I was afraid they might misfire in our direction,” Abadi said.

“They turned out to have been more frightened by us, as we were in six jeeps,” he added. “We followed the news and saw huge demonstrations,” says Moshe Ilan, who was part of the group of tourists. “We saw tires burning on the sides of the road… We also heard the country’s airspace had been closed and we got nervous.”

Yoram Shomron, another member of the group, said, “I was sensitive to the fact that we were Jews, but everything the police did was to protect us. They did not do anything because we were Israelis, but simply to protect us.”

Following a four-hour wait in their vehicles, they convinced the police to let them continue on their way. However, the tour guide was concerned about the local security forces and sought an immediate return to Israel.

“The combination of us being tourists, Jews and carrying money, and the possibility that we would be robbed, led us to want to leave the country as quickly as possible,” Abadi said.

The group departed via Djerba-Zarzis International Airport to Frankfurt, and then to Istanbul, and from there to Israel.

“There was no heroic rescue,” the travelers were keen to note, but they did have photos of burned buildings and the roadblocks set up by the Tunisian authorities.

“We definitely feel like we witnessed a piece of Tunisian history, but personally I’d prefer a different kind of experience,” another tourist said.

But there are still those who are planning their next trip over there.

“Tunisia is a beautiful country, and we found ourselves in a difficult situation,” Abadi said. “This is an economic protest, and the rationale is greater than the fanaticism. Nonetheless, I think the country will bring the demonstrations under control.”