Tunis (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Today the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba began. Immense security measures have been put in place, after the massacre at the Bardo Museum and the impromptu warning by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ofpossible terrorist attacks.
Hundreds of Tunisian Jews, as well as Jewish representatives from France, Italy and Britain are expected to take part. According to tradition, the Ghriba synagogue is the oldest in Africa. It was founded in 586 BC by Jews fleeing the destruction of Solomon's Temple by the Babylonians.
The Tunisian government has deployed barriers and checkpoints on the roads to the island and around the Jewish quarter of Hara Kbira. The heightened security measures aim to erase the memory of the Bardo Museum attack in the capital, on 18 March, when a group of Islamic State jihadists killed 21 foreign tourists and a Tunisian policeman.
In 2002 the Jewish pilgrimage to Ghriba was targeted by an Al Qaeda suicide bombing, in which 21 people died.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has warned pilgrims that there are "concrete threats" of terrorist attacks against Israelis or Jews in Tunisia. But the Tunisian government has countered that the threats are unfounded and that Israel is trying to "damage the reputation" of the country.
Tunisia, a 97.4% Islamic nation, is struggling to reassure foreign tourists after the terrorist attack of the Bard and the years of turmoil that followed the Arab Spring, in 2011, which has devastated the tourism sector , which contributes 7% of the national GDP.
Tunisia was the birth place of the Arab Spring and the first to adopt a new constitution that guarantees full citizenship to all, Jews, Muslims and Christians, and provides for the defense of freedom of conscience, that is, the freedom to have or not to have a religion and freedom to change one’s religion.