Wanting to Go Home Again (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 1, April 28, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. David Gerbi tried to become a force for peace between Libya, Israel and the Jewish people. Now he wants justice. Dr. Gerbi refuses to allow the the Libyans to traumatize him a second time. The first time it happened, in 1967, he was a child. Then he had no choice. Now he does. Gerbi, 53, tells his story in compelling, entertaining and troubling detail. He lays out documents and pictures as supporting evidence to his claims, numbering them carefully with yellow Post-its, making sure that the facts are clear. Short and taut, fast-paced, he sometimes seems to speak with his body, as if the words were only for the benefit of those who cannot hear what his motions say. Gerbi was born in Tripoli, Libya, the fourth of six children in a well-to-do family; his father was a jeweler. There were an estimated 38,000 Jews living in Libya in the 1930s, but only 4,000 remained by 1951, due to anti-Jewish pogroms following the establishment of the State of Israel. Then, in the 1950s and early 1960s, the Jews began to feel more secure and safe. But when Gerbi was 12, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, he, his family and the entire Jewish community, then numbering some 6,300, after weeks of hiding in fear, were expelled from their comfortable Libyan lives and deported, dispossessed and penniless, to Rome. He has struggled all his life to regain a sense of mastery and security in the world. Today, Gerbi, an Italian citizen who lives in Rome and says he wants to make aliya (immigrate) to Israel, is a successful actor and Jungian psychologist. With an international reputation, he is invited by theaters and therapeutic institutions all over the world to perform his one-man plays and lecture on Jungian psychology. Gerbi has visited Libya twice, both times as an official guest of the government. His first visit, in 2002, was successful. And so Gerbi, the Jungian interpreter of dreams, allowed himself to dream about reconciliation between Libya, Israel and Jews. He declared that he no longer wanted any compensation or reparation - only peace and equality between Jews and Arabs, throughout the world. But on his second visit, in November 2007, he was, once again, unexpectedly expelled and, yet again, forced to leave his personal possessions behind. "I believed [Libyan leader Muamar] Qadhafi and the other Arab nations when they said that they wanted to make amends to the Jews. But they lied. Now I demand justice." He uses psychological terms, that are not always clear to laymen. Gerbi believes in "synchronicities," a Jungian principle that links events that have a similar meaning through their coincidence in time. "Synchronicities are meaningful coincidences," Gerbi explains. "They provide an opportunity to repair that which needs to be repaired in our lives." It is synchronicities, he believes, that weave his life into Jewish history and geo-politics, merging his personal biography with his people's history, from the first Jewish presence in Libya in 312 BCE, through the expulsion from Spain, the Six-Day War, and even the events of 9/11. So it seems natural to him to view House Resolution 185, passed on April 1 by the U.S. House of Representatives as a synchronicity, another proof of the justice of his demands. The unprecedented resolution grants for the first time U.S. recognition to Jewish refugees from Arab countries and urges the president and all U.S. officials participating in Middle East discussions to ensure that any reference to Palestinian refugees must "also include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries." "The timing of this resolution," he insists, "is more than coincidental. It is an opportunity. And I will seize it." Gerbi tells his story with a combination of optimism and sadness, naiveté and street smarts. "When we arrived in Rome in 1967," Gerbi recalls, "we were like the Jews of the Shoah. And like Jewish people everywhere, we began with less than nothing, and we made progress." He remembers small cramped apartments, hunger and charity. To help support the family, he and his brothers worked at any odd jobs they could find. Slowly, the family amassed possessions and status, but they never felt truly safe or truly at home. In an autobiographical book (published in Italian in 2002 and in English in 2007, and entitled, "Making Peace With Qadhafi," he writes that his father died in 1979 "somewhat unhappy because... he was humiliated and deprived of his dignity." Gerbi became a psychologist, at least in part to "make sense of my past," he says. In 1996, he began an ongoing professional connection with the Esalen human potential center in Big Sur, California, which has, he believes, helped him heal his wounds and inspired him to reach out to others. He became an expert in Jungian dream interpretation and explains that "dreams provide us with the opportunity to heal ourselves." The events of September 11, 2001, changed his life irreversibly. Watching the attacks on the Twin Towers, he recalls, he suddenly felt like "a bottle of champagne whose cork had flown away. All my experiences as a refugee, my thoughts, fears and desires, so long compressed and fermented inside, burst out... The thick smoke rising from the burning towers suddenly reminded me of the smoke of the houses and the shops in front of my home, set on fire during the 1967 riots in Tripoli." He began to write his book, which he entitled, "Making Peace With Qaddafi," in which he tells his own story and sets forth "a model for establishing peace in the world." And he suddenly, deeply knew that he had to go to Libya. Noting that his skin is dark-toned, he says, "I have a natural mother - Libya; a step-mother - Italy; and a religious mother - Israel. I have the great mother, the Mediterranean mother, who embraces all three nations of which I am a part." And then - a synchronicity. His mother needed a copy of her birth certificate in order to renew her passport, so she faxed a request to the Italian consulate in Tripoli. A staffer there noticed that his mother's maiden name was almost the same as the name of an elderly, ill and lonely woman whom she had helped place in a nursing home. Family consultations quickly revealed that this was Gerbi's aunt, the last remaining Jew in Libya, with whom they'd lost contact over the years. Determined to go to Libya and to bring his aged aunt back to Rome, to reunite her with her family before she died, Gerbi wrote to Qadhafi. And the People's Bureau of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya responded - after a Libyan consular official who shops at his sister's clothing shop in Rome intervened - and granted him a visa, the first visa that Qadhafi - who, upon assuming power in 1969, announced that Jews could never return to Libya and that all their property would be confiscated - had ever knowingly offered to a Jew. On September 5, 2002, Gerbi flew to Tripoli as an official guest of the government. He visited his aunt and, at the end of the trip, brought her to her family in Rome. The Libyan officials treated him like a dignitary, putting him up in a suite in the elegant El-Kebir Hotel, providing him with a driver and a guide (who was also probably a security agent, he acknowleges). He toured his home city. He still remembered his way around - the barber, his uncle's shop, the Jolly Bar, the grocery, the spot where he was hit by a car when he was little and taken to the hospital. Much of the city was the same as he remembered it - especially his father's store on Sciara el-Kaira Street, in the Galleria de Bono. He realized, he says, "how much I felt at ease in this world full of color and perfume." He recalls, "I went to my father's store and I spoke with the man who owns it now. He told me he knew my father. My father's name was Scialom (Shalom - peace) and this man's name was Salam (Arabic for Shalom). You see, their names are the same. He told me he has eight children and asked me if I wanted the store back. I could see the fear in his eyes, the fear that he would no longer be able to provide for his family. I remember that look of fear in my father's eyes. And suddenly I felt the tension discharge from my body. I told him, 'No - you keep it. I have my work.' This was my peace offering." Gerbi's trip to Libya was part of another synchronicity, one he may have been only partly aware of. By 2002, Qadhafi was trying to break out of the isolation caused by the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, in which 270 people were killed, committed by at least one Libyan whom Qadhafi attempted to protect, and by his own strange and erratic behavior. "Qadhafi wanted to reverse his fortunes," Yigal Palmor, director of the North Africa department of Israel's Foreign Ministry, explains to The Report. "He took steps that surprised the entire world - he even agreed to take apart the ostensible Libyan nuclear program that no one in the West even knew existed. It was all very dramatic - suddenly, Qadhafi became the good guy, a newly respectable neighbor. " And as part of his turn-about, Palmor continues, Qadhafi also made numerous public statements about reparation and repatriation of the Libyan Jews. Extract of an article in Issue 1, April 28, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.