'Armed men force Libyan Jew from Tripoli synagogue'

David Gerbi returns to Libya from exile after 44 years to restore synagogue and is warned to flee "men coming with guns."

David Gerbi with Berber friends 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
David Gerbi with Berber friends 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
TRIPOLI - A Libyan Jew who returned to the country in hopes of resurrecting its Jewish community after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi said on Monday that armed men had forced him from the Tripoli synagogue which he had hoped to restore.
David Gerbi, who at the age of 12 went into exile in Italy after the 1967 Six Day War spurred attacks on Tripoli Jews, told reporters he was trying to resume cleaning at the long-shuttered synagogue, only to find its door locked. Residents of the area then warned him to flee, he said.
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"A man came and said, 'You need to stop now. There are men coming with guns and you will be killed,'" said Gerbi, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned "I Love Libya" and holding a scroll inscribed with "Yahweh", the Hebrew word for God.
A companion of Gerbi's said four men armed with rifles had come to the synagogue as he tried to enter.
Gerbi, who cultivated ties with Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) during the uprising that toppled Gaddafi, said the incident would force the NTC to confront anti-Jewish prejudice following its pledges to build a democratic state that respects civil and human rights following decades of dictatorship.
"It needs to be clear if it's a racist country or a free country," he said. "The door has been closed again ... it's happened to so many generations. It's a symbolic act."
NTC spokesmen did respond immediately to calls seeking comment.
Gerbi, a psychotherapist in his late 50s, has sought a position representing exiled Jews in the NTC, which is struggling to form a transitional government, and hopes to secure the return of property confiscated from Libyan Jews, some 38,000 of whom were forced out in 1969.
Anti-Jewish sentiment has marked the uprising against Gaddafi and its aftermath, in which graffiti invoking an alleged Jewish strand in Gaddafi's lineage has sprung up on walls across the capital.
Gerbi said he planned to visit a Jewish cemetery, despite the possibility that he could be at risk in Tripoli.
"I am sorry for the people who love me," he said, weeping. "But I will not give up."