Libyan Jews call on the UNSMIL to secure their rights in Libya’s constitution

David Gerbi prays in Tripoli’s Dar-al Bishi synagogue which he has pledged to restore (Photo: Reuters). Via Martin Kramer

Representative of World Organisation of Libyan Jews (WOLJ) Dr. David Gerbi urges the international community on the issue of Libyan Jews.

The WOLJ call the authorities of the GNA, the Parliament, the leader of Benghazi governments, to respect the rights and heritage of Libyan Jews and how they should be secured by the new constitution on the issue of Libyan Jews that has been forgotten for fifty years (1967 – 2017).

We call for our rights that has been violated for 50 years. We call for the respect of our rights as Libyan Jews.

Libyan Jews have the right to return to their ancestors’ hometowns in Libya to visit and to pray for their dear one and to receive back their properties and to demand their compensation of the private and public property that has been confiscated since 1967, when the last 5000 Libyan Jews became refugees in Italy, USA England and other countries.

We call US, UN, Italy, France, England and the three governments to recognize the rights of Libyan Jews.

We Demand justice by the International Courts

We call to the UN for the importance of the respect of universal human rights and the freedom of religion.

Today there are no Jews in Libya because of the persecution, the pogroms, the intolerance and the racism that force the Jewish community to leave the country in 1967 when because of the six days’ war between Israel and Arab countries, the last 5000 Jews has been forced to leave to Italy Israel USA and England in order to save their lives.

1967-2017 fifty years pass and the historical unresolved conflict is still not addressed nor is it resolved by the international community and by Libyan government and we have become the forgotten refugee that lost everything but not the right to fight for justice, the faith and the dignity.

We started from below zero and today thanks G.D and our resilience we rebuilt our life with honesty and we live with dignity in democratic countries that respect the human rights and the freedom of religion. But we still want justice and reconciliation through the apologies and the compensation of our property and for the fifty years of suffering.

We are still committed to support the respect of universal human rights and the respect of freedom of religion also in Libya. We are still committed to fight against discrimination, racism and antisemitism also through the education of the young people that has been brainwashed through the culture of hate and racism.

We ask that the legacy and the interest of the Libyan Jewish refugee be remembered as it happen in july 2016 between Mr Kobler and Dr Gerbi in Tunis in UNSMIL office.

We have museums of Libyan Jews and we have personal testimonies of Jews from Libya, we did it in order in order to preserve our history and heritage.

We have a museum to offer information and documentation on Jewish refugees from Libya, we conduct public education programs that provide historical perspective, in the pursuit of truth, justice and reconciliation.

The return is not a requirement and demands but it is a fateful and humanistic right. We have Jews that live in peace in Morocco, in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Iran. They can choose to live there or to leave their country where they were born. There is a freedom of choice and we seek this basic freedom.

The Libyan draft proposal Constitution should prioritize the Libyan Jews account. We have to raise the important segment of the Libyan Jews and their rights, through the history, we have the roots that stretch back to thousands of years, and additional to the issues mentioned above. We ask officially and strongly that the Libyan Parliament, all three Prime ministers, the concerning Ministries and “The Constitution Foundation” to accept and assist in our case, and the idea of the rights of the Libyan Jews in the draft proposal of the Libyan Constitution.

We are Jews from Libya. Although my family and I were forced to flee Libya for Rome after the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, we still consider ourselves to be proud Jews and Libyans. We kept the tradition, the languagee, the cooking, the liturgy of the prayers, we open new Libya Jewish synagogues in different places. We continue to have Libyan hospitality, habits, proverbs and love for the mediterranean sea.

We pray for a stable Libya, a country that affirms freedom, justice, and the rule of law, protects freedom of religion for all its people, and honors its Jewish heritage.

The history of Libya’s Jews stretches back to the third century B.C., through the 1492 Jewish expulsion from Spain, and up to the 20th century. My community saw Romans, Ottomans, and Italians come and go. For hundreds of years, we coexisted peacefully with Libyan Muslims, despite the tensions brought by political upheaval. As recently as 1931, Libya’s Jewish community of about 24,500 people represented 4 percent of the country’s population. (By comparison, the U.S. Jewish community, the largest in the Diaspora today, is only 2 percent of the U.S. population.)

But the wars of the 20th century decimated our community. The trouble began in 1938, when a Nazi-inspired racial law against Jews led to heightened persecution, and hundreds of Libyan Jews were killed in riots during that period. By 1949, many Jews had been forced to leave after Libyans rioted again in reaction to the establishment of Israel. By 1969, with Qaddafi in power, only about 100 Jews remained. At that time, Qaddafi confiscated the assets and possessions of all Libyan Jews, including those who had left in 1967 and earlier, and declared that Jews could not return or renew their passports.

In 2002, I was the first Jew to be given permission to return to visit my aunt, Rina Debach. Upon finally being allowed to leave in 2003, she joined our family in Rome, where she died 40 days later. She was the last Jew to leave Libya, and her departure marked the end of more than two millennia of continuous Jewish presence there. While not one Jew lives in Libya today, the original Diaspora population of 38,000 has grown to about 200,000 people who reside largely in Israel and Italy.

In the years since, I have made several trips to Libya as part of reconstruction and reconciliation efforts on behalf of the Libyan Jewish community, acting as a representative for the World Organization of Libyan Jews (WOLJ). In 2007, I was invited back by the Libyan government because of my support for normalized Libyan-U.S. relations. After volunteering at the Benghazi Psychiatric Hospital, I began trying to restore Tripoli’s Dar Bishi Synagogue, which dates from the late 1920s but has deteriorated badly over time. The Qaddafi regime ultimately made my work impossible: I was abruptly detained, interrogated, and, without any reason or explanation, dispossessed of all my belongings and deported.

I met Qaddafi when he visited Rome in June 2009. I was there in my traditional Libyan robe. Speaking in Italian, I pressed him on opening the Dar Bishi Synagogue. While I had little to hope for, given his detached manner and empty promises, I was pleased to discover that the meeting somehow helped me to start shedding my fears and gain back some of the dignity I had felt I lost as a refugee: Qaddafi could no longer harm me, and my Libyan, Jewish, and Italian identities gave me strength.

During my last trip to Libya in the spring of 2011, I joined the anti-Qaddafi rebels by volunteering again at the Benghazi Psychiatric Hospital, where I trained the rebels to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I was in the mountains north of Tripoli a few months later, working on PTSD with Amazigh Berbers.

Inside Dar Bishi synagogue in Tripoli. (Photo: Reuters)

Like most Libyans, their suffering resulted not only from the current conflict, but also from 42 years of calamities caused by the dictatorship. What they desperately needed was to overcome their fears and find that they could hope again — hope for a better life in freedom. After Tripoli was liberated, I once again tried cleaning up the Dar Bishi Synagogue.

I wanted TO have a symbol of the freedom of religion that would prove the genuine respect of human rights and democracy. Even though I had received permission from the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the local government to undertake this work, a mob gathered, shouting that “there is no place for Jews in Libya” and carrying signs in both Arabic and Hebrew to make sure, I suppose, that I got the message. Once again, I had to leave. But this time I left with dignity, not fear: I left on the day of my choice and on my own terms.

I wanted to signal to the NTC that I would work with it to restore calm and that it needed to work with me. And in so doing, I found more strength. Despite all these challenges, I still have hope. I will continue to do what I can so that the Jewish presence in Libya is not forgotten and Jews, as well as all minorities, can reclaim their rightful place in Libya. I know that this will take time.

Tripoli’s new leadership faces enormous challenges, such as building the essential elements of government and civil life and bridging ethnic and regional divides. But part of this effort must include preserving and protecting Libya’s few remaining Jewish heritage sites. We also urge the leaders and similar bodies to recognize and meet with the WOLJ as the legitimate representative of the Libyan Jewish community. Hope often needs help.

The international community must also act

These countries must send a message to the Libyan leaders that they can demonstrate their seriousness about democracy and human rights by breaking with Libya’s past and welcoming back Jews and other minorities.  U.S. citizens can also help by urging President Trump’s administration to remain true to its values.

Libya must become a free, just, and democratic country, grounded in the rule of law, in which all of Libya’s minorities — including those Jews forced to flee — are welcomed back into the Libyan family.

The historic Jewish presence in Libya must be recognized. The grave injustices inflicted upon Us must be acknowledged.

The crimes committed against Libyan Jews must be rectified

After fifty years is time to speak with truth – to bring the history of forgotten and invisible Libyan Jews refugees to the world’s attention. We will do all the efforts in order that our history will not be lost and that our plight will not be ignored any longer.

The repeating words that I hear from fifty years are that until Israel will not give back to the Palestinian their property, the Libyan Jews will not be back in Libya to have their rights. There is no relation, and this is a brainwashed position, from the previous regime.

As the Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Iran respect their citizen without mixing religion with politic, this should happen in Libya.

In some instances, Jewish refugees fled state-sanctioned persecution and violence, and in other instances they were expelled.

All refugees deserve consideration as they have lost both physical property and historical connections.

The reality of today is that the Jews are not welcome in Libya, that the Jews would never risk their life to visit or to support the reconstruction of Libya  if there are not even safe , that the Libyan governments and the UNSMIL do not include the file of the  historical unresolved injustice  with Libyan Jews but the best thing about the future is that is unknown and come one day at the time. Fifty years pass through the Idris regime, Qaddafi regime, Jalil transition regime and the last six years regime with different figure and no one want to face it at all. The truth remain the truth and history cannot be change. And the injustice will never expire unless will be a
reparation and reconciliation.

The suffering and the injustice that all Libyan face in spite their religion, color, tribe or minority status, bring the similarities in our diaspora.

We humans never learn from the past and it keeps being repeated over and over and over again. in my field of psychology, we say: insanity is keep doing over and over the same thing and expecting a different result. For Libya in order to achieve something we need to do something that never done until now: reparation of this injustice would be a good start for a new era.

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Libyan Express.
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