ROME – World Organization of Libyan Jewry Representative Dr. David Gerbi was
meant to be in Tripoli to address the International Forum of the Constitutional
Rights of the Amazigh of Libya on January 12, but his invitation was canceled at
the last minute.
Khalid Zekri, president of the Amazigh in Libya, and
Fathi Khalifa, president of the Amazigh World Congress, had invited
Gerbi, who fled Tripoli with his family in 1967 when the Six Day War
led to attacks on Jews in his neighborhood, intended to offer WOLJ’s support for
the persecuted Amazigh minority (often referred to as Berbers). He also planned
to speak up for the rights of exiled Libyan Jews to restore their over
2,000-year-old heritage and participate as equal citizens in building a new
Gerbi was uninvited after the December 31 attack on Misrata’s
Coptic Church in which two people were killed.
His would-be Amazigh hosts
and other political representatives informed him his visit was
They said the “Supreme Security Committee” was worried about
his safety and suggested he not come personally, but send a video of his speech
instead (his speech was not aired).
Italian Foreign Ministry sources told
the Libyan-Italian- Jewish Gerbi that they had received information that his
participation in the Amazigh Congress would unleash further terrorist attacks in
an escalating conflict.
Despite the cancellation, violence in Libya
spiraled independently. On January 12, terrorists shot at the Italian consul’s
car. His life was saved by a bulletproof window.
Had Gerbi been in
Tripoli, he was later told, the attack would have been blamed on his
Based on email exchanges with Libyan representatives, Gerbi
deduced that the fear of violent reactions is due to years under Muammar Gaddafi
of anti-Israel conditioning, stereotyping all Libyan Jews as “Zionist traitors”
with whom the Amazigh fear to be identified.
Gaddafi expelled Libya’s
38,000 Jews in 1968 and confiscated their assets.
In the end, Gerbi
remained in Rome, and despite repeated promises by the organizers, his video
speech was not shown at the Tripoli congress.
American and Libyan friends
and supporters of the cause, both Jewish and not, first expressed hope and then
outrage in Facebook chats.
In Gerbi’s censored speech that was, in fact,
not aired, he makes ample reference to the 1951 constitution.
shows an amiable, young, solitary Libyan Jew wearing a kippa, saying, “I believe
it is essential that the Libyan government quickly take concrete steps to
demonstrate its commitment to human rights and religious freedom and its support
He quotes Article 11 of the old constitution which
states, “Libyans shall be equal before the law. They shall enjoy equal civil and
political rights, shall have the same opportunities, and be subject to the same
public duties and obligations, without distinction of religion, belief, race,
language, wealth, kinship or political or social opinions.”
Gerbi has been struggling to save and restore Libya’s Jewish heritage and help
lay groundwork for a new democratic Libya.
His efforts have been
acknowledged in support letters from the most varied sources, including the
Italian Foreign Ministry; 16 members of the United States Congress; the US State
Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal;
and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
the anti- Gaddafi rebels in 2011, offering them training in the treatment of
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome at Benghazi’s Psychiatric Hospital.
awakened ancestral memories of good neighborly interreligious friendships, but
was forced to return to Italy when Gaddafi’s henchmen tried to kill
Sometime later Gerbi returned to Tripoli to join the National
Transitional Council of Libya. He was granted permission to remove garbage from
Tripoli’s main synagogue in order to pray there.
However, a menacing mob
gathered outside the shul, bearing signs in both Hebrew and Arabic and shouting,
“There is no place for Jews in Libya,” and he was once more forced to
Gerbi’s new book, I am a Refugee, will be launched in Riva del
Garda and various schools of the northern Italian Trentino region on January 27,
on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Gerbi says, “I will continue
to hope, and affirm my right to refuse to remain silent.”