Israel's Secret Mission Helps Jews To Escape Tunisia Riots
Twenty-One Israeli citizens were helped covertly to escape the on-going riots in Tunisia during the weekend.
Arutz Sheva News reported that "from the moment it became clear Tunisia was going up in flames, Israeli officials at the Foreign Ministry were already on the phone to Europe."
Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy said that as soon as officials learned of the blockade, they sent a message via contacts in a third nation requesting safety for the Jewish population.
The rescue mission involved several agencies and at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, the 21 Israeli tourists were lifted off from the island of Djerba - home to most of Tunisia's Jewish community - flown on to Germany and from there back to Ben Gurion International Airport.
Israel has also used its contacts to urge the Tunisians not to drag their Jewish neighbours into the conflict.
But all is not positive as I understand from a post on Facebook that there are three women, named only by their Hebrew patronyms, who are " stuck in Tunisia who have run out of food and are scared for their lives". Anyone able to offer practical assistance is asked to contact the American Jewish Committee for details.
So the irony was clear to anyone watching international reporting teams working from the safety of Jerusalem. Nor would they have overlooked the coincidence of the local Chabad Lubavitch house’s location on Rue De Palestine in Djerba.
This building has been closed since the violence erupted and the local Jewish community is staying at home, according to spokesman, Rabbi Binyamin Hatab.
He added: "The situation is very complex and we are trying to be most careful. We're trying not to leave the house at night and are listening to instructions heard in the media."
Tunisia has a largely Muslim population. Chabad was established there in 1959 when Rabbi Nisson Pinson and his wife Rochel were sent to Djerba as emissaries to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish movement, noted for its outreach work among irreligious or otherwise disaffected Jews.
However, Jews have lived in Tunisia since ancient times. At the time of Israel’s establishment in 1948, the local Jewish population reached more 100,000, but successive waves of emigration to Israel and France depleted it and now only 3,000 people remain, living mostly in capital, Tunis and Djerba.
There have hitherto been good ties between the community and the government although a bomb which was detonated outside the El Ghriba Synagogue in 2002, killed 21 people.
“We will make sure that that tradition of intrastate harmony prevails,” says Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs at the American Jewish Committee.