What do Tunisians think of Israel?

The Gaza conflict unites political opponents in Tunisia

In several Tunisian cities, people took to the streets last weekend in solidarity with the Palestinians. Over 1,000 demonstrators in front of the Palestine embassy and on Habib-Bourguiba Avenue, in the center of Tunis, demanded the end of the Israeli attacks and intervention by the international community. Many posters called for the condemnation of the Israeli army's war crimes against civilians. Families, political activists and religious conservatives marched past the Ministry of the Interior under a Palestinian flag several hundred meters long.

The Tunisians agree on Palestine

In February, the civil protests against the government's inaction due to the social crisis in the country were stopped with brutal police violence. This time, the police let the angry citizens do it on Saturday, despite the total curfew due to the corona pandemic. In the short term, the lockdown was simply called off.

"The fate of the Palestinians is probably the only issue on which Tunisians from all walks of life agree," says Mohamed Hamed from Tunis, a young left-wing activist. The 34-year-old came to the center of the Tunisian capital at the same time as those against whom he had demonstrated in February. But Islamists, supporters of the Ben Ali regime, which was driven out ten years ago, and all political camps have not forgotten the days when Tunis was also the exile capital of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

"Why doesn't the international community intervene to save Palestine?" Asks Mohamed, who usually works as a DJ in a nightclub. But some of the choirs also address their own government. Since Tunisia currently has a seat on the UN Security Council, the Foreign Ministry submitted a statement condemning the "activity of the settlers, the destruction of houses in East Jerusalem and the displacement of the residents by the Israeli government".

Because of the US government's veto, the Tunisian paper did not make it to the vote. On the street you don't want to be satisfied with the usual diplomatic phrases any more. At the third protest parade in Tunis, organized by the moderate Islamists, the demonstrators addressed by "nd" do not want to use the word Israel at all. "The occupation of Algeria by France lasted longer than the current occupation of Palestine by the Zionist entity," says a supporter of the Ennahda party. "One day all of Palestine will be free again."

No criticism of Hamas at all

There were no violence or clashes with the police on the following days or in other cities. There is a mixture of anger and powerlessness on the faces of the demonstrators, "but it's a good feeling to experience so much solidarity in the midst of the political squabbles," says Mohamed Hamed. The political elite, which has been heavily criticized in recent months, is making clever use of the nationwide mobilization. During a visit to a school in the small town of Hamam Chott, the general secretary of the UGTT union, Noureddine Taboubi, demands that the "reaction of the Tunisian state to the Zionist aggression must be clear and precise".

During the ceremonial hoisting of a Palestinian and a Tunisian flag, he made it clear that private and state relations with Israel should be a criminal offense in the future. Hardly anyone in Tunisia or neighboring Libya currently dares to publicly criticize the shelling of Israeli cities by Hamas. Critical voices from Israel about the bombing of the Gaza Strip and the settlement policy of the Netanyahu government only take place on private Facebook pages and are largely ignored. The well-known radio presenter Haythem Al-Mekki criticizes the fact that the same networks that promoted the fight against the Syrian government years ago are now adopting the Palestine question in order to polish up their lost reputation.

The issue of Palestine has also reached the schools that reopened on Monday after the end of Ramadan and the Corona lockdown. Education Minister Fathi Slaouti wants the story of the expulsion of the Palestinians to be the focus of the course for one week.

Together with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and representatives of the UGTT and the employers' association UTICA, Slaouti called for a united effort to counter the violence against civilians. The event commemorated 2014, when an alliance of many social representatives, the so-called Quartet, received the Nobel Peace Prize. As it is now, Tunisia was facing a social ordeal, perhaps even a civil war. The UGTT has called for the next big demonstration in Tunis on Wednesday.

Also read: EU wants to get involved in Middle East poker. At a special meeting, the foreign ministers discussed the escalation in Israel and Gaza

Large Jewish community in Tunisia

The analytical fuzziness between Israelis, Jews and Zionists is particularly sensitive when it comes to public criticism in Tunisia, since up to 150,000 Jews still live in Tunisia. The majority of North African Jews left North Africa after the Six Day War in the late 1960s. There are still active communities in Tunis and Djerba. The former Minister of Tourism Rene Trabelsi of Jewish origin received more than 20 European rabbis for an annual pilgrimage to the holiday island in 2018; they were enthusiastic about the religious tolerance in Tunisia. Jil Lalouche, a well-known Jewish businessman and restaurant owner, currently sees no threat to his community. The general polarization due to the economic crisis is rather frightening, he tells the "nd" in Tunis.

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