Libya protest calling for David Gerbi's deportation .
(photo credit:Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)
A few hundred angry protesters gathered in central Tripoli on the eve of Yom
Kippur on Friday, calling for the deportation of a Libyan Jew who has been
trying to reopen a synagogue sealed since ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
expelled the country’s Jewish community in 1967.
The protesters carried
signs reading, “There is no place for the Jews in Libya,” and “We don’t have a
place for Zionism.”
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The crowds tried to storm Italian Libyan Jewish
psychoanalyst David Gerbi’s Corinthia Hotel in central Tripoli. There was also a
demonstration in Benghazi in the east of the country.
According to Gerbi,
the crowd wanted to forcibly remove him from the hotel.
impeded by hotel and Libyan security and government officials,” he
Gerbi said that National Security Adviser Abdel Karim Bazama, rebel
leader Mustafa Saghezli, Interior Minister Ahmed Dharat and Justice Minister
Muhammad Allaghi were among the government officials present at the
“The Tripoli crowd dispersed after Allaghi warned that any use of
force on the part of the protesters would immediately result in strong
international condemnation,” Gerbi said.
“He [Allaghi] reassured them the
‘problem’ would be resolved within 48 hours.”
The demonstrations were
ignited by an attempt by Dr.Gerbi to clean the debris and pray in
Tripoli’s abandoned Dar Bishi Synagogue. Dr. Gerbi had joined the National
Transitional Council (NTC) rebel group last spring, first as a volunteer at the
Benghazi Psychiatric Hospital and then joining and helping the rebels
“This incident has served to expose the dangerous reality
simmering beneath the surface,” he said.
“I want to contribute to, not
obstruct, the building of a new democratic and pluralistic Libya. It is sad and
absurd that my mere presence in Libya, should set off so much hostility and I
regret this,” Gerbi said.
“However,” he continued, “what happened reveals
the extent of Gaddafi’s anti-Semitic conditioning of an entire generation, those
in their forties and fifties. Forty-two years of lies, of hate propaganda
falsely accusing Jews of having been paid off to abandon the country in 1967, of
having robbed Palestinians of their homes and of planning to colonize
“Fortunately, the older generation still recalls warm friendships
with former Jewish neighbors,” Gerbi said, “and I will continue to work to
restore a 2,300-year-old coexistence and advocate active roles in the NTC for
Libyan Jews, for the Libyan Amazigh population, for women and all ethnic and
On Sunday, after a personal meeting with Libyan
and Italian diplomatic representatives, he agreed to return to Rome on Tuesday
by military plane in order to ease the tension.
Gerbi said the Italian
ambassador in Tripoli claimed that the controversy over his actions was
strengthening the extremist wing of Islam in the current internal war in Libya
between extremist and more moderate, liberal Muslim forces.
been told he was “complicating matters,” that “the time is not ripe for such
actions” and that his security was endangered. In addition, his attempt to clean
out the garbage littering the synagogue was defined as “breaking into an
archaeological site without permission,” for which he received a police
Gerbi said that as a Libyan Jew, whose citizenship papers were
never renewed by the Gaddafi regime, he has “as much right to enter and pray in
Jewish religious sites as the Libyan Muslim exiles who have returned have rights
to pray in mosques. And there can never be a wrong time for guaranteeing civil
rights and religious freedom.”
Italian Foreign Ministry sources said they
are following the case closely and working internationally on long-range support
for all of the basic principles necessary to the building of a democratic state,
which, they said, takes time. They also advised Gerbi to leave now, as
have the Libyan authorities, and return to the country at a later
Following up on recent correspondence with NTC President Mustafa
Jalil, Gerbi is awaiting a final confirmation of the NTC’s acceptance of his bid
to become a member of the new government and the country’s representative for
One of the conditions posed for his election to Libya’s
future government is that he not be an Israeli citizen. Gerbi is a native Libyan
with an Italian passport.
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