Finding Zion in Libya



As I watched a streaming video of 56-year-old David Gerbi hack away at a wall of brick and mortar surrounding his childhood synagogue in Tripoli, Libya, I couldn’t help but facepalm. To me, his tears and apoplectic breakdown seemed to be a cleverly placed advertisement for maintaining a stalemate in Israeli-Arab diplomacy. Could the timing possibly have any relation to the recent Palestinian bid for statehood? Nah.

Earlier this month, Gerbi, a Libyan Jew in exile following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war (the one that made it even less okay to openly practice Judaism in the Middle East), attempted to return to and restore his, now-run-down former place of prayer. The post-Gaddafi Libyan response: a police summons and a flock of Libyan protestors demanding Gerbi’s removal from the country. Currently (as far as I can tell from the strange Skype conversations he posts on YouTube), the man is confined to his upscale hotel due to the potentially violent crowd that awaits him outside with all plans of restoration on hold.

But don’t let your tears of sympathy spill out yet; Gerbi’s premature timing appears to be taking advantage of the still-settling Arab world’s volatility. Did anyone really expect Middle Eastern states (aside from Israel) to suddenly develop Western ideals as soon as the Arab peoples ditched their iron-fisted, pro-Western leaders? When I was in Egypt last year, there was a clear consensus amongst Cairene taxi drivers that the person riding shotgun was either Christian or Muslim (don’t worry, I didn’t tell them I’m Jewish), and Obama was the most amazing thing to ever happen to America. Yeah, of course it feels a little icky when you realize that the Arab Spring you supported so strongly a half a year ago has some sketchy undertones, but this is a contradiction of the Middle East that still has to be resolved.

Gerbi acknowledges the controversial timing of his return to Tripoli, but suggests another purpose. “I want to contribute to, not obstruct, the building of a new democratic and pluralistic Libya,” he said. A noble goal, but will one Jew assisting in the construction of a new Libya end anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism? I really don’t think it’s possible that he even sees himself as a Libyan anymore. He’s been an Italian psychoanalyst for the last 40 years. He might as well be an Israeli ambassador to Libya, and at this point, I don’t think listening to the Israeli or Libyan ambassador is at all a priority on Libyans’ to-do list.

But of course, this is one of the more ugly realities of the new Middle East and something that needs to be dealt with in the coming years. I suggest to Gerbi — and to the rest of you who consider now a good time to “join in and help” by setting the pressure cooker back on high — another method. If you want to be a Libyan and bring freedom of religion to Libya, why not show that you can integrate yourself into the society and actually be a citizen that Libyans can relate to? Why do you have to come in as an outsider and expect everyone to think of you as one of them? I told taxi drivers that I was Christian in Egypt — yes, that was a little too far in terms of assimilation — but if you are already prepared to endure death threats (you’ve already had many) just be a Jewish Libyan, don’t be a Zionist living Libya right now; that’s just bad sense.

Over time other Libyan Jews may join you, and as you gradually practice your religion more publicly, Libyans will be more likely to accept Judaism in the country. Trying to make a point about the instability and lack of political correctness just sets you against your people and your people against you. You aren’t Theodor Herzl, trying to convince Britain to support a Jewish state in an area of supposedly uncivilized Palestinians. Don’t talk to the world; talk to the Libyans.

Zachary Babtkis is a Middle East studies and film and media studies major.

 

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13 Responses to Finding Zion in Libya

  1. haberler Reply

    January 4, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    You really make it appear really easy along with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something that I think I would by no means understand. It sort of feels too complicated and extremely broad for me. I am taking a look ahead for your next publish, I’ll attempt to get the hang of it!

  2. Arafat Reply

    November 28, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Unfortunately wherever Islam invades, Jews and all other people eventually disappear. This is true of the Hindu people who lived in Pakistan for 4,000 years before Islam invaded there. This is true of the Buddhist people who lived 4,000 years in Afghanistan before Islam invaded there. This is true of the Berbers (and Jews) of Libya when Islam invaded there. This is true of the Assyrians, Zoroastrians, Copts and Chaldeans, Armenians and other Christian sects when Islam invaded their homelands. This is what happens when a supremacist, fascistic group invades another people. Always has been so and always will be so. Until Islam either goes through a profound reformation and/or disappears this will always be so.

    • Fathi Reply

      November 29, 2011 at 5:45 pm

      You are dreaming my friend .

  3. Fathi Reply

    November 27, 2011 at 5:44 am

    As a Libyan [ not a Jew ] I believe that Jews didn’t fight with us against Gaddaffi to leberate Libya from the tyrant .

    Believe me , don’t ever think about coming to Libya to live because people here are still remebering what you have done back in 1967 .

    You could be killed [ Not treating ] . It’s the truth .

    I believe that jewish people want to come back to Libya to ruin it because ” Allah told us how jewish people think ” .

    You have nothing to hide . It will be a roaring hell for you in Libya.

    I know that alot of people will say that I’m an anti semetism when they read my words .

    Do you know what is [ Semetism ] , where that word comes from at all ?

    All the world needs a long lessons in History according to the truth and not according to the manibulative jewish people.

    • Masada Reply

      November 27, 2011 at 1:03 pm

      The reason Libyan Jews didn’t fight with you against Gaddaffi is that you kicked all of them out and stole all of their property a long time ago. Anti-semitism always has and always will mean racism against Jews. It was European, anti-Jewish racists who coined the term ‘anti-semite’ to describe themselves. The fact that you, as an Arab, are technically a ‘semite’ does not in any way prevent you from being anti-Semitic, that is, racist against Jewish people. Your references to The Protocols of The Elders of Zion make it very clear that you are very racist against Jewish people. You need a long lesson on the significance of your disgusting world view and the number of people who have suffered (and may still suffer) as a result of it.

      • Fathi Reply

        November 27, 2011 at 2:17 pm

        People who have suffered . Maybe you mean the holocaust by saying that . We see Israel makes a holocaust everyday in Palestine and no one in the world takes an action against that . Do you think that your big holocaust fraud that you use every time you need a thing from Mama America to do against Islam or Muslims . Maybe you have forgotten what Jews did to the people of ” Gaza ” and ” Deer Yasin ” and ” Sabra and Shatella ” and a lot that I can’t count of your crimes against us . You think that we will forget . You are dreaming . By the way I’m only 20 years old and I will tell my children and my grand children about all of that . We never give up . We win or we die . Our blood is not cheap and so is our brothers blood .

        • Masada Reply

          November 28, 2011 at 9:46 am

          Now Holocaust denial!!?!!? Bravo sir, Hitler would have been so proud of you. What is really tragic about people like you is that you may have some legitimate political complaints but no one cares because of what a disgusting, ignorant racist you are. Your, “big holocaust fraud” and “manipulative jewish people” garbage is recycled European racism. Your worldview is not so different from those who believe all Muslims are terrorists and that their goal is to take over the world through deception and violence. Don’t you find it ironic that you will feed your children a steady diet of European style racism?

          And on a different note, if you think Jews will ever give up you are dead wrong. Jews faced discrimination, expulsion, forced conversion, and massacres for 2000 years and still survived. You are not the first to want to destroy them and you will not be the last. Their children will remember that when Arabs tried to destroy Israel in 1947 the war was ugly. Jews massacred Arabs and drove many from their homes. Arabs did the same to Jews. The difference was that the Jews had nowhere else to go and were determined to stand and fight while Palestinian society crumbled and most of the people fled. They will remember that at the same time almost a million Jews across the Arab world were expelled from their countries and had nearly all of their property stolen from them on the way out.

          Do not think that your racism and your willingness to die fighting Jews will make the world a better place. You and others like you only encourage racism on the other side and make peace more difficult to achieve. I suggest you learn a thing or two about the world before you start teaching your children anything.

          • Fathi Reply

            November 29, 2011 at 5:42 pm

            Peace !! ? According to you and your people perspective of view peace means that we give up ourrrrrrr Land ” Palestine ” to you . Never dream of that , you started the war and we will finish it by getting your asses out of our Land . You know that the best eras for Jews are when they lived in peace with Arabs . You can study about Andalusia and about how Islam accepted all divine religions ” Christianity and Judaism ” . The problem is that you can’t accept living with others who belong to other religions but we do and you can come to any Islamic country and no one will press you to change your religion except in ” Afghanistan ” because of those ignorant monsters who rule there . Conclusion ; Leave our land and leave us in peace and gain peace otherwise you can guess what’s coming .

            • Arafat Reply

              November 29, 2011 at 7:25 pm

              All Lands Belong to Islam (Just ask Fathi):

              Could someone explain this conundrum for me?

              Why is it Muslims are free to violently conquer lands anywhere and everywhere without a word of protest from American Muslims, or any Muslims for that matter, but if Jews have a legally established homeland Muslims will never stop protesting against it? Why is this do you suppose? What explanation can be given other than as the Qur’an states repeatedly that Islam’s goal is to establish a worldwide caliphate in which all non-Muslims are subjugated.

              For instance, Mohammed was born around 571 AD thousands and thousands of years after Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism existed. But within a few centuries of Mohammed’s birth Islam had violently conquered vast sections of Asia, all of North Africa and smaller sections of Southern Europe.

              Now Muslims tell us that all this land belongs to them even though, for instance, in Afghanistan they killed every last Buddhist who once lived there. According to Muslim logic per Israel shouldn’t this land belong to the Buddhists?

              Or in North Africa all the Berbers have been forcibly converted to Islam or have been killed and now we’re told all this vast landmass belongs to Islam. That’s interesting, if not completely hypocritical. And what about Southern Thailand. Did anyone know that in the last several years something like 5,000 Buddhists have been killed by Muslims because, or so we’re told, the land the Buddhists are on belongs to Islam. And Southern Russia? Muslims are relentlessly waging a slow reign of terror in Russia because, you guessed it, Russians are treating Muslims poorly and they should give up the Southern section of that country to Muslims.

              Or, let’s take Sudan as another example. How many millions have been killed in Sudan? How many babies and children have starved in Sudan while Islamists steal the food from aid compounds? How many women have Muslims gang-raped in Sudan all because that land belongs to Muslims and only Muslims. All other people can go somewhere else to live, I guess.

              And Kashmir? The same. Despite Hindus having lived there for 5,000 years – something like 4,000+ years before Mohammed was born – Muslims tell us Kashmir belongs to them. Amazing logic isn’t it?

              And that brings us to Israel. Israel also belongs to Islam. Did you know that? It’s true. Even though it’s no bigger than a small pimple on the caliphate’s ass it is still their land and they will fight to the death to prove their point.

              Doesn’t the logic here make a lot of sense. Isn’t it as clear as day? Of course it is. The world belongs to Islam and we’re mere players on their stage.

            • Masada Reply

              November 29, 2011 at 10:53 pm

              LOL so you openly support ethnically cleansing “your land” of Jews yet you claim the problem is that JEWS can’t accept living with others? Brilliant logic! By the way, isn’t it interesting that when Jerusalem was ruled by Jordan from 1948-1967, NO JEWS were allowed to pray at the Western Wall, the holiest Jewish site in the world? I can only imagine how you might react if a non-Muslim state conquered Mecca and prevented all Muslims from praying there.

              The fact is that most Palestinians gave up their land when they started a war with the Jews and lost. Mahmoud Abbas recently admitted it was a mistake and you should too. If the Palestinians (and all the Arabs) hadn’t tried to destroy Israel from the start they would still be living there.

              Also, it sure is nice that on the one hand Libyan Jews can come to Libya and no one will press them to change religions but on the other, they should never, “think about coming to Libya to live… [they] could be killed” (your words). At least they can die as Jews right Haj Amin Al Husseini Jr.?

              Your absurd yet common notion that the best eras for Jews were when they lived in peace with Arabs has no basis in fact. Since the ancient Jewish kingdoms in Israel, by far the best era for Jews is the last 60 or so years in Israel and the U.S.. The best era before that was the 19th-early 20th century in Western Europe when Jews were emancipated and became successful in nearly all aspects of public life. Islam is 3rd and perhaps 4th on the list. Jews enjoyed a period of prosperity during the rise and dominance of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th-16th centuries. They also enjoyed relative prosperity during the original rise and dominance of Islam in the 7th-10th centuries. It is true that until the 19th century Jews lived well under Islam compared to Christianity but they were still dhimmis (second class citizens at best and a persecuted minority at worst). If you want to learn the actual facts start here:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_and_antisemitism

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_under_Muslim_rule

              If you think Israeli Jews will ever agree to give up their self determination and live under Muslim rule you are out of your mind. In the last 2000 years both Muslims and Christians have taught Jews that they must be masters of their own destiny in order to survive. If you expect Jews to forget that lesson you will be sorely dissapointed.

            • Masada Reply

              November 30, 2011 at 4:55 pm

              LOL so you openly support ethnically cleansing “your land” of Jews yet you claim the problem is that JEWS can’t accept living with others? Brilliant logic! By the way, isn’t it interesting that when Jerusalem was ruled by Jordan from 1948-1967, NO JEWS were allowed to pray at the Western Wall, the holiest Jewish site in the world? I can only imagine how you might react if a non-Muslim state conquered Mecca and prevented all Muslims from praying there.

              The fact is that most Palestinians gave up their land when they started a war with the Jews and lost. Mahmoud Abbas recently admitted it was a mistake and you should too. If the Palestinians (and all the Arabs) hadn’t tried to destroy Israel from the start they would still be living there.

              Also, it sure is nice that on the one hand Libyan Jews can come to Libya and no one will press them to change religions but on the other, they should never, “think about coming to Libya to live… [they] could be killed” (your words). At least they can die as Jews right Haj Amin Al Husseini Jr.?

              Your absurd yet common notion that the best eras for Jews were when they lived in peace with Arabs has no basis in fact. Since the ancient Jewish kingdoms in Israel, by far the best era for Jews is the last 60 or so years in Israel and the U.S.. The best era before that was the 19th-early 20th century in Western Europe when Jews were emancipated and became successful in nearly all aspects of public life. Islam is 3rd and perhaps 4th on the list. Jews enjoyed a period of prosperity during the rise and dominance of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th-16th centuries. They also enjoyed relative prosperity during the original rise and dominance of Islam in the 7th-10th centuries. It is true that until the 19th century Jews lived well under Islam compared to Christianity but they were still dhimmis (second class citizens at best and a persecuted minority at worst). If you want to learn the actual facts start by going to wikipedia and searching “history of the Jews under Muslim rule” and “Islam and Antisemitism”.

              If you think Israeli Jews will ever agree to give up their self determination and live under Muslim rule you are out of your mind. In the last 2000 years both Muslims and Christians have taught Jews that they must be masters of their own destiny in order to survive. If you expect Jews to forget that lesson you will be sorely dissapointed.

  4. teddy meghnagi Reply

    November 23, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    as a libyan jew i think It was a perfect way for gerbi to see and show nato and europ if the new libya is looking for democraty
    we are talking about it ther for some one is reading this

  5. Nini Reply

    November 23, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Our Jewish roots are in so deep belonging in Libya, it might take one a lifelong study to understand. We were in Libya since 300 BCE.
    Much long before the Arab/Muslims.
    I will always be a Libyan, it was were I was born and were I learned to be who I am.
    A strong willed one always hoping for Peace, and still believing one day I would have the financial wealth that was stolen from us, that rendered me a Jewish Refugee from Arab Lands.

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