Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Jewish Revolutionary Finds Friends & Enemies
Dr. David Gerbi returned to the Synagogue to find it boarded up and locked. An armed man then threatened him with violence, and 200 demonstrators picketed his hotel, forcing him to leave Libya, but the NTC is considering his application to represent the Jews of Tripoli in the new government. But so far he is the only one.
Following calls for deportation, Gerbi to return to Rome
By LISA PALMIERI-BILLIG, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPOND
Angry protesters gather in Tripoli to demand deportation of Libyan Jew David Gerbi, who has been trying to reopen a sealed synagogue.
A few hundred angry protesters gathered in central Tripoli on the eve of Yom Kippur on Friday, calling for the deportation of a Libyan Jew who has been trying to reopen a synagogue sealed since ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi expelled the country’s Jewish community in 1967.
The protesters carried signs reading, “There is no place for the Jews in Libya,” and “We don’t have a place for Zionism.”
Gerbi said that National Security Adviser Abdel Karim Bazama, rebel leader Mustafa Saghezli, Interior Minister Ahmed Dharat and Justice Minister Muhammad Allaghi were among the government officials present at the hotel.
“The Tripoli crowd dispersed after Allaghi warned that any use of force on the part of the protesters would immediately result in strong international condemnation,” Gerbi said.
“He [Allaghi] reassured them the ‘problem’ would be resolved within 48 hours.”
The demonstrations were ignited by an attempt by Dr.Gerbi to clean the debris and pray in Tripoli’s abandoned Dar Bishi Synagogue. Dr. Gerbi had joined the National Transitional Council (NTC) rebel group last spring, first as a volunteer at the Benghazi Psychiatric Hospital and then joining and helping the rebels themselves.
“This incident has served to expose the dangerous reality simmering beneath the surface,” he said.
“I want to contribute to, not obstruct, the building of a new democratic and pluralistic Libya. It is sad and absurd that my mere presence in Libya, should set off so much hostility and I regret this,” Gerbi said.
“However,” he continued, “what happened reveals the extent of Gaddafi’s anti-Semitic conditioning of an entire generation, those in their forties and fifties. Forty-two years of lies, of hate propaganda falsely accusing Jews of having been paid off to abandon the country in 1967, of having robbed Palestinians of their homes and of planning to colonize Libya.”
“Fortunately, the older generation still recalls warm friendships with former Jewish neighbors,” Gerbi said, “and I will continue to work to restore a 2,300-year-old coexistence and advocate active roles in the NTC for Libyan Jews, for the Libyan Amazigh population, for women and all ethnic and religious minorities.”
On Sunday, after a personal meeting with Libyan and Italian diplomatic representatives, he agreed to return to Rome on Tuesday by military plane in order to ease the tension.
Gerbi said the Italian ambassador in Tripoli claimed that the controversy over his actions was strengthening the extremist wing of Islam in the current internal war in Libya between extremist and more moderate, liberal Muslim forces.
Gerbi had been told he was “complicating matters,” that “the time is not ripe for such actions” and that his security was endangered. In addition, his attempt to clean out the garbage littering the synagogue was defined as “breaking into an archaeological site without permission,” for which he received a police summons.
Gerbi said that as a Libyan Jew, whose citizenship papers were never renewed by the Gaddafi regime, he has “as much right to enter and pray in Jewish religious sites as the Libyan Muslim exiles who have returned have rights to pray in mosques. And there can never be a wrong time for guaranteeing civil rights and religious freedom.”
Italian Foreign Ministry sources said they are following the case closely and working internationally on long-range support for all of the basic principles necessary to the building of a democratic state, which, they said, takes time. They also advised Gerbi to leave now, as have the Libyan authorities, and return to the country at a later date.
Following up on recent correspondence with NTC President Mustafa Jalil, Gerbi is awaiting a final confirmation of the NTC’s acceptance of his bid to become a member of the new government and the country’s representative for Libyan Jewry.
One of the conditions posed for his election to Libya’s future government is that he not be an Israeli citizen. Gerbi is a native Libyan with an Italian passport.
Italian Jew who left Libya in ’67 helps rebels heal PTSD
By LISA PALMIERI-BILLIG, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
David Gerbi, psychoanalyst and first Jew to join Libyan rebels, volunteers at Bengazi hospital to help heal post-traumatic stress disorder.
ROME – Dr. David Gerbi, a Libyan Jewish Jungian psychoanalyst who found refuge in Italy after the pogroms of 1967, has cast his lot with the Libyan rebels in Bengazi and their interim government, the National Transitional Council.
The first Libyan Jew to join the rebels, he has returned to Rome after a week of volunteer work at the Bengazi Psychiatric Hospital, teaching his colleagues there the techniques of healing post-traumatic stress disorder.
Gerbi dedicates his life to retrieving his several identities while working for democracy and reconciliation. In 2004, he was appointed by the UN High Commission for Refugees to serve as a Witness for Peace mentor, and in 2007 he was named the commission’s Ambassador for Peace in South Africa.
One of his principle aims is salvaging the Libyan Jewish-Arab cultural heritage (dating as far back as the third century BCE) from which he and all Libyan Jews now dispersed across the world were so abruptly severed following repeated Arab riots and massacres related to political incitement against the State of Israel, notably in 1945, 1948 and 1967.
“I was warmly welcomed in Bengazi by the leaders of the rebel government as a returned exile, as a Jew, an Italian, a psychoanalyst, and as a Libyan citizen with full rights to travel and live in Libya,” Gerbi told The Jerusalem Post last week.
Gerbi feels the time is ripe for exiled Libyan Jews to openly support the National Transitional Council and its struggle for democracy and human rights. During his visit last month to the Rabbi Cyril Harris Jewish Community Centre in Johannesburg, its president, Hazel Cohen, commended Gerbi for his “courage to break the psycho-genetic culture of silence that has beset the exiled Jews of Libya and to speak out about the oppression and crimes against humanity committed by the Gaddafi regime.”
Gerbi hopes that with the advent of a democratic and pluralistic Libya, exiled Jews will be permitted to regain their passports and return for travel, work or residence.
Amazigh rebels embrace representative of Libyan Jews
By LISA PALMIERI-BILLIG JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDE
Libyan-Jewish exile David Gerbi, now in anti-Gaddafi outpost, heading to Tripoli to meet with National Transitional Council chairman.
ROME – David Gerbi, the international relations representative of the World Organization of Libyan Jews, is called “Udai ugrauli” (“the Jewish revolutionary”) by the Amazigh rebel leaders on the Libyan National Transitional Council in the country’s western Jebl Nafusa mountains.
The Amazigh (plural – Imazighen) as they prefer to be called, rebels, have embraced Gerbi in their midst, with special appreciation for his Jewish background.
Gerbi, a Jungian psychoanalyst and Libyan-Jewish exile living in Italy, has been to Libya on several missions over the past decade, driven by a desire to restore the two-millennium old Jewish-Libyan heritage and return to his erstwhile home as a free citizen. The “Udai ugrauli” proudly displays his three legitimate identities: Italian, Libyan and Jewish. As Gerbi spoke with The Jerusalem Post via Skype from a rebel outpost in the mountains on Friday, gunshots could be heard in the distance.
After a week of volunteer service in the Benghazi Psychiatric Hospital last May, helping to treat victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome, Gerbi decided to cast his lot with the National Transitional Council rebels. He again left Italy and went to Tunis in August, where he met with Fahdel Hshad, an Amazigh whom David Gerbi met at the Benghazi Tibesti Hotel with the other NTC members. Hshad, considered a great though humble leader, has lived exile for over 30 years, having been among the first in the opposition to refuse to recognize Muammar Gaddafi. This was his first trip home in three decades. Hshad and other Amazigh NTC members escorted Gerbi to the Amazigh town of Jadu in western Libya where, during World War II, Italian Fascists and others erected a concentration camp that interned 2,600 Jews.
Gerbi was warmly welcomed by the chairmen of town councils, all members of the NTC, respectively: Moussa Younes of Jado, Dr. Mustafa Razabani of Rajban and Tayeb Ahmed of Jefren along with the general population who recalled the good things their grandparents had told them about Jews.
Among many invitations, Gerbi “sat shiva” in mourning the Galiza family (200 members), sitting in a small circle on the floor with everyone eating from one plate.
Gerbi was brought to the Jewish Cemetery where headstones lie in disarray, with a couple of Hebrew inscriptions on fragments. He recited a symbolic Kaddish over Ner Neshamot (Yahrzeit candles) on a child’s tomb, lighting three candles in memory of the Jewish dead, including approximately 600 interned men, women and children who died of typhoid in the camp during WWII.
The Amazigh National Transitional Council members offered Gerbi the possibility of fencing off the cemetery and restoring the tombs.
They plan to organize an inauguration ceremony three months from now with the presence of a delegation of ten Jewish Libyans to form a Minyan. In return, the Amazigh members of the Libyan NTC will be invited as a pilgrimage delegation to Jerusalem.
“Our two peoples have much in common,” Mahmoud Tabib said. “We want to create closer relations between Muslims and Jews. Without Jews we will never be a strong country.”
He recalled stories of friendships with Jews he had heard from his grandparents and noted the Jewish kinship of names such as Ya’kub (Jacob), Jounis (Jonah), Moussa (Moses), Hannah, Zaccaria etc.
NTC spokesman Salem Badrani aims to “give voice to the voiceless” in the new constitution, inserting guarantees of respect for Amazigh language, culture and education that was repressed and prohibited by Gaddafi. The Amazigh feel they lived an experience similar to that of the Marranos, and have not succeeded in making themselves heard in the past. They now want to become visible, reclaiming full rights to their ancestral identity.
Gerbi plans to go to Tripoli and, with the help of his NTC rebel friends, meet with NTC leader Moustafa Abdel Jalil – who has already received a formal letter from the World Organization of Libyan Jews’s Kahlon naming Gerbi as the organization’s official representative and offering friendship, support, help, reconciliation and an exchange of visits.
He plans to propose a proper religious burial of the remains of Libyan Jews in the Bengazi cemetery (whose bones are presently stored in trunks), the re-consecration of the Homs and Derna Jewish Cemeteries, the reconstruction of the synagogues of Tripoli and Jefren (Yafran), and renewed negotiations regarding collective and individual property confiscated from the Jewish community by the Gaddafi regime.
In pursuing these dreams for his people, Gerbi has repeatedly risked his safety in the past 10 years by going on solo missions to Libya (in 2002, 2007 and 2009). He even tried to persuade Muammar Gaddafi in person, under the tent set up for him during his visit to Rome last year, to support these efforts – but to no avail.
During Gerbi’s sojourn in Tripoli in 2007, Libyan police arrested him and confiscated six mezuzot he had brought with him, and the money he had hoped to use to begin the restoration of the Sla Dar Bisni Synagogue. They kept the mezuzot but later returned the money.
Now in Israel to attend the wedding of a nephew, Gerbi plans an immediate return to the Bengazi Psychiatric Hospital to continue his volunteer work.
He hopes to eventually become an official voice for the revival of Jewish life in Libya.