The Another

    ‘It could have been a carnage’



    Tunisian Jewish community members in Djerba in the aftermath of an attack during which five were killed in front of the Ghriba synagogue on May 9, 2023.

    In the maze of streets of the Hara Kbira, the Jewish district of Djerba, a small light cut the darkness. It emanated from a barbecue restaurant where hungry night owls were reminiscing about the attack on the Ghriba synagogue on Tuesday, May 9, which killed 5 people.

    “Really, it could have been a carnage if the security forces had not been there. It was a close call,” said Isaac, a faithful visitor from Paris who was on the scene. “Within seconds, we were in the middle of the shooting. Fortunately, I turned around because I couldn’t find my wife.”

    The island of Djerba, also referred to as “The sweet one”, woke up on Wednesday in terror with the news that four people had been killed in the middle of the Ghriba pilgrimage, the great annual meeting of Tunisian Judaism.

    During the day, the toll increased with a fifth victim, a member of the police force who died of his injuries.

    The two pilgrims killed were identified: They were two cousins, Benjamin Haddad, a 42-year-old Frenchman, manager of a kosher bakery in Marseille, and Aviel Haddad, a Tunisian-Israeli citizen living on the Tunisian island. The assailant was shot dead.

    France’s Parquet National Antiterroriste (a prosecutor’s office in charge of terrorism matters, PNAT) said on Thursday it was launching an investigation into Haddad’s death on the grounds of “murder in connection with a terrorist enterprise.”

    The Jewish Consistory of Marseille said in a statement it mourned the death of “two innocent victims,” ​​adding that “the entire Jewish community of Marseille” was “in grievance.”

    Around the restaurant table in Djerba, everyone had a story to tell. “My friend saw the terrorist fall at her feet, in front of her. Can you imagine, she must be in such a state,” said Isaac’s wife – she refused to provide her first name.

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    “Yes, my cousin’s friend was there too,” said another, chewing on a lamb chop. Within the restaurant’s four walls, eating and talking acted as therapy for the trauma experienced just 24 hours earlier.

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    Members of the security forces around the Ghriba synagogue during the assault that killed five people on May 9.


    A few other businesses were still open and the neighborhood, already under protection, witnessed a significant increase in security. The pristine white walls flickered with the passing red flashing lights, a reminder the situation was still volatile.

    In the afternoon, tension rose between members of the Jewish community and the police in front of the regional hospital Sadok-Mokaddem. Bodies of the victims were initially stationed there but their families and relatives then learned “by chance” of their transfer to Tunis for autopsy.

    This practice is “forbidden by the laws of the Torah,” said Lévy, a French rabbi who came for the pilgrimage, triggering a wave of anger. “There has to be some respect, some consideration for the families. The community has been affected, we deserve a minimum of transparency. We weren’t even told where the bodies were.”

    The rabbi did attempt to follow the remains to recite funeral prayers, as required by Jewish tradition, but he was stopped by police. Near the hospital, young people blocked a traffic circle to ask for the return of the hearses and challenged the police nearby.

    “Let them bring us the bodies!” one of them said. In an emotional outburst, another raged at the distraught traffic police. “Where is the security? You were supposed to protect us!”

    On the remaining part of the island, the situation was rather quiet. In Erriadh, where the Ghriba synagogue is located, police officers were blocking all traffic on the road leading to the temple.

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    Anouar, a local resident, went on recalling a night of panic. “The police forbade us to leave our homes while the operation was underway. I was very afraid, first of all for my family but also for my clients whom I know very well,” said the receptionist of a hotel in Houmt Souk, in the north of Djerba which hosts pilgrims every year.

    One of his neighbors was hit by many bullets in the arm and back. Still in critical condition, he was transferred to a hospital in Tunis like others wounded in the attack. “It’s sad, the pilgrimage, it’s usually a nice atmosphere. With the Jews, we all live together during the year, we laugh together. Every day, I walk past the synagogue,” Anouar said.

    A few hundred meters from a dam, Ridha was also sorry about the situation. “It is really unfortunate what happened. We, the Djerbians, all live together: Jews and Muslims. My neighbors are Jews, the children go to the same school,” said the 53-year-old restaurant owner. “Our parents lived together, our grandparents too.”

    Ridha did not see the attack, he heard it. At first, he thought it was firecrackers thrown by children as is often the case during celebrations on the island but he became aware of the extent of the situation when he saw the ballet of ambulances and army trucks.

    According to Ridha, there is no possible doubt: The attack was the work of a “madman” who wanted to undermine the well-known harmony of the island, a place where believers of different faiths and a number of Islam’s currents are welcome.

    Demonstration in Paris on May 10, 2023, after a bloody shooting rampage in which a police officer killed five at a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia.

    ‘Until I die’

    The motives of the attacker, a member of the National Maritime Guard, were still unclear. On Wednesday, Tunisian President Kais Saied spoke in a solemn address during which he described the assailant as a “criminal.” He said the attack aimed at “destabilizing the country” and “sabotaging the tourist season.”

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    “I want (…) to reassure the Tunisian people, but also the whole world that Tunisia will remain a safe country, despite all attempts by these criminals to destabilize it. We will ensure the preservation of security and stability in society,” Saied added.

    The spectator of a tourist season spoiled by the threat of terrorism frightens the population of the island as well as the authorities. In 2015 and 2016, Tunisia had been the victim of a wave of attacks that caused many victims among tourists. This period had permanently affected the tourism sector, a pillar of the Tunisian economy.

    Some were already alarmed. “The atmosphere is gloomy, it does not bode well,” said a cab driver, visibly worried about the situation. “I hope it will not affect the summer season,” said Anouar.

    In a bit to reassure the national and international public, Mohamed Moez Belhassine, the tourism minister, strolled through the streets of Houmt Souk, the main town of the island of Djerba, to meet with craftsmen.

    His ministry also said that flights to the country had not yet been disrupted as a result of the attack. At the same time, however, several hundred Jewish pilgrims from abroad were still confined to their hotels while waiting to return home.

    Elie Lellouche, a Parisian lawyer who came on pilgrimage and witnessed the attack firsthand, refused to remain cloistered. “This is the first time I’ve been outside since then,” he said, pointing out the increased security after the attack. “And I will come back every year until I die. It is after an event like this that we must show our strength and solidarity with the Tunisians.”

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    Translation of an original article published in English on; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.

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