(Adds official comment)
By Joseph Logan
TRIPOLI Oct 3 A Libyan Jew who returned to the
country in hopes of resurrecting its Jewish community after the
fall of Muammar Gaddafi said on Monday that armed men had forced
him from the Tripoli synagogue which he had hoped to restore.
David Gerbi, who went aged 12 into exile in Italy after the
1967 Arab-Israeli war spurred attacks on Tripoli Jews, told
reporters he was trying to resume cleaning at the long-shuttered
synagogue, only to find its door locked. Residents of the area
then warned him to flee, he said.
A man came and said, 'You need to stop now. There are men
coming with guns and you will be killed,'" said Gerbi, wearing a
T-shirt emblazoned "I Love Libya" and holding a scroll inscribed
with "Yahweh", the Hebrew word for God.
A companion of Gerbi's said four men armed with rifles had
come to the synagogue as he tried to enter.
A local military official denied there was any confrontation
at the synagogue.
"He left with his own will and his departure was even
filmed. Everything is documented, thank God," said Sheikh Jamal
al-Ghazzawi, head of the military council in Tripoli's old city,
who said no one had threatened Gerbi.
"We came here so no one will react and use violence against
him. We made sure everything was in a polite and safe way. He
left under our protection and journalists were around. When he
left he made things up about us."
Gerbi, who cultivated ties with Libya's ruling National
Transitional Council (NTC) during the uprising that toppled
Gaddafi, said the incident would force the NTC to confront
anti-Jewish prejudice following its pledges to build a
democratic state that respects civil and human rights.
"It needs to be clear if it's a racist country or a free
country," he said. "The door has been closed again ... it's
happened to so many generations. It's a symbolic act."
Gerbi, a psychotherapist in his late 50s, has sought a
position representing exiled Jews in the NTC, which is
struggling to form a transitional government, and hopes to
secure the return of property confiscated from Libyan Jews, some
38,000 who were forced out in 1969.
Asked about Gerbi's bid, NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil
said: "This is a premature issue. We have not decided on that
yet. The future attitude in Libya is citizenship...whoever has
Libyan nationality would enjoy the rights provided to Libyans
provided he doesn't have another nationality."
Gerbi said he planned to visit a Jewish cemetery, despite
the possibility that he could be at risk in Tripoli.
"I am sorry for the people who love me," he said, weeping.
"But I will not give up."
(Additional reporting by Emad Omar in Benghazi; Editing by