Historic Tunisian synagogue set on fire

Two Molotov cocktails thrown at famous Djerba prayer site caused a fire in a small part of the structure, which was put out quickly.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Unknown assailants tried to set fire to the 2,500-year-old El Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba Tuesday night.

In a Facebook post, Elie Trabelsi, son of the synagogue president, wrote, “There was a failed attempt to burn down the synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Djerba through the use of Molotov cocktails, but thank God, no one was hurt and security and civil protection are now doing their duty.”

Only light damage was caused, as the fire was put out quickly.

The attack came as violent protests erupted in several cities throughout the country against austerity measures the government had authorized in its 2018 budget, which raised taxes and prices on items such as gasoline. The moves were deemed necessary as part of an economic reform package needed to get approval a year ago for a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, as Tunisia tries to overcome its growing economic challenges.

The El Ghriba synagogue is believed to have been founded around 586 BCE by Jews fleeing Judea after the Babylonians’ destruction of the First Temple. Considered the center of Jewish life on the island, it has long been a destination for pilgrims, especially Jews of Tunisian descent. However, since an Al-Qaeda attack in 2002 killed 21 foreigners near the famous site, tourism has declined somewhat from the thousands that used to come each year.

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Some 1,500 Jews live in Tunisia today, mostly on Djerba. It is one of the last remaining fully intact Jewish communities in an Arab majority country. Citing Djerba’s long and unique Jewish history, Tunisia has even sought UNESCO World Heritage status for the island.