It happened about fifty years ago, but in light of what’s now happening in the Middle East it sounds dramatically actual. In June 1967 Libya expelled its Jews, when the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab neighbors broke out. The conflict triggered once again a series of dramatic anti-Jewish riots. In those violent attacks 18 people were killed and more injured. In Tripoli homes and businesses were devastated and properties seized.
It was not the first time that Libyan Jews became targets of the violence by the population, but that was the final act of their ancient and glorious history. At the end of June King Idris let Jews leave the country: They were forced to leave their homes, their businesses and most of their possession, and were allowed to take with them only one suitcase and 20 pounds and urged to leave.
About 4,000 people found refuge to Italy. Half of them emigrated to Israel, the others stayed in Italy – mainly in Rome – where they integrated in the Jewish world and now constitute an important and influential part of the community.
That sad anniversary, recently remembered in Rome (on the website memoriebraiche.it you can find the testimonials of those people that experienced the expulsion), reminds us the drama of Jews in the Arab countries. The expulsion from Libya was in fact only a chapter of the general exodus that, from the end of XIX century, involved more than one million people from Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia.
That story, until now almost unknown, reminds us how the violence of the Arab nationalism, the pan-Arabism and the Pan-Islamism were able to destroy a cosmopolitan and plural world where religions, cultures, languages and habits used to mix and to intertwine in a harmonic way. A lesson that sounds actual and important, today more than ever.
(in the picture, David Gerbi who fled to Italy with his family in 1967. In 2011, after Gaddafi’s fall, he returned to Lybia and visited the rest of Tripoli’s main synagogue)