ROME – David Gerbi, the international relations representative of the World
Organization of Libyan Jews, is called “Udai ugrauli” (“the Jewish
revolutionary”) by the Amazigh rebel leaders on the Libyan National Transitional
Council in the country’s western Jebl Nafusa mountains.
The Amazigh (plural – Imazighen) as they prefer to be called, rebels, have embraced
Gerbi in their midst, with special appreciation for his Jewish
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Gerbi, a Jungian psychoanalyst and Libyan-Jewish exile living
in Italy, has been to Libya on several missions over the past decade, driven by
a desire to restore the two-millenniumold Jewish-Libyan heritage and return to
his erstwhile home as a free citizen. The “Udai ugrauli” proudly displays his
three legitimate identities: Italian, Libyan and Jewish. As Gerbi spoke with The Jerusalem Post
via Skype from
a rebel outpost in the mountains on Friday, gunshots could be heard in the
After a week of volunteer service in the Benghazi Psychiatric
Hospital last May, helping to treat victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome,
Gerbi decided to cast his lot with the National Transitional Council rebels. He
again left Italy and went to Tunis in August, where he met with Fahdel Hshad, an Amazigh whom David Gerbi met at the Benghazi Tibesti Hotel with the other NTC members. Hshad, considered a great though humble leader, has lived exile
for over 30 years, having been among the first in the opposition to refuse to recognize Muammar
Gaddafi. This was his first trip home in three decades. Hshad and other Amazigh NTC members escorted Gerbi to the
Amazigh town of Jadu in western Libya where, during World War II, Italian Fascists and others erected a concentration camp that interned 2,600
Gerbi was warmly welcomed by the chairmen of town councils, all members of the NTC, respectively: Moussa Younes of Jado, Dr. Mustafa
Razabani of Rajban and Tayeb Ahmed of Jefren along with the general population who recalled the good things
their grandparents had told them about Jews.
Among many invitations,
Gerbi “sat shiva” in mourning the Galiza family (200 members), sitting in a small circle on
the floor with everyone eating from one plate.
Gerbi was brought to the
Jewish Cemetery where headstones lie in disarray, with a couple of Hebrew
inscriptions on fragments. He recited a symbolic Kaddish over Ner Neshamot
(Yahrzeit candles) on a child’s tomb, lighting three candles in memory of the
Jewish dead, including approximately 600 interned men, women and children who
died of typhoid in the camp during WWII.
The Amazigh National
Transitional Council members offered Gerbi the possibility of fencing off the
cemetery and restoring the tombs.
They plan to organize an inauguration ceremony three months from
now with the presence of a delegation of ten Jewish Libyans to form a Minyan. In return, the Amazigh members of the Libyan NTC will be invited as a pilgrimage delegation to Jerusalem.
“Our two peoples have much in common,” Mahmoud Tabib said. “We want to
create closer relations between Muslims and Jews. Without Jews we will
never be a strong country.”
He recalled stories of friendships with Jews
he had heard from his grandparents and noted the Jewish kinship of names such as
Ya’kub (Jacob), Jounis (Jonah), Moussa (Moses), Hannah, Zaccaria etc.
NTC spokesman Salem
Badrani aims to “give voice to the voiceless” in the new constitution, inserting
guarantees of respect for Amazigh language, culture and education that was repressed and
prohibited by Gaddafi. The Amazigh feel they lived an experience similar to that
of the Marranos, and have not succeeded in making themselves heard in the
past. They now want to become visible, reclaiming full rights to their ancestral identity.
Gerbi plans to go to Tripoli and, with the help of his NTC rebel
friends, meet with NTC leader Moustafa Abdel Jalil – who has already
received a formal letter from the World Organization of Libyan Jews’s Kahlon
naming Gerbi as the organization’s official representative and offering
friendship, support, help, reconciliation and an exchange of visits.