Despite the attack adjacent to the El Ghriba Synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, where cousins Ben and Avial Haddad were murdered, the Jewish community there celebrated Wednesday the circumcision of the newborn son of members of the community. The joy is mixed with sadness, and the atmosphere in Djerba is very tense following the events that took place there during Lag Ba'Omer festivities the night before.
The community members say that they are very afraid for the future, and especially because they do not know how they can trust the police officers who secure the community after a local police officer carried out the attack in which the two Jewish cousins were murdered.
The rabbi of the Jewish community in Djerba announced that the Tunisian authorities accepted the community's demand to refrain from performing an autopsy on the two murdered victims, which goes against Jewish law. However, it was agreed that they would remove the bullets from the bodies before they were released. This has been taken care of and now the bodies will be flown out of the country for burial in Israel.
In Israel, officials have not ruled out the possibility that this was a terrorist attack, although officially they do not want to push the Tunisians into a corner on the issue.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen spoke with the rabbi of the local community, Haim Bitan, and expressed solidarity with the community in its difficult time and offered his help in whatever is needed. Bitan thanked Cohen for his words. They are working to bring the bodies of the murdered cousins for burial before Shabbat.
The two cousins who were murdered near the synagogue in Djerba are distant relatives of Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar. Zohar said: "They are distant family of my late mother. Unfortunately, we were not in contact, but as far as I understand these are very good people, and it's really tragic."
Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi knew Aviel Haddad and even met with him in the past. "This morning we received the sad news of Job about two Jews who were murdered in an attack during the traditional revelry at the El Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba – Aviel and his cousin Ben Haddad. The pain is great," said Karhi. "At the time, I had the privilege of meeting the late Aviel and his family, who are connected to their roots with every fiber of their being, while maintaining the Jewish tradition in Djerba."
A terrorist attack previously was carried out in the ancient synagogue. On April 11, 2002, a truck bomb exploded in front of the synagogue, killing 21 people. The terrorist, Nizar bin Muhammad Nasser Nawar, drove a truck loaded with gas cylinders and explosives, broke through the security barriers in front of the synagogue - and blew it up.
'There is a great fear'
The terrorist who carried out the shooting Tuesday night murdered three security men, stole the weapon and four cartridges of one of them and continued his killing spree. He murdered Ben and Aviel Haddad in the synagogue's parking lot before being killed by local security forces.
"The whole area is full of police," said one community member. "It is clear to us that he planned to murder Jews. Now there is a great deal of fear here, because there are hundreds of police officers here and it is impossible to know who will harm us. It is a very difficult situation."
A senior security official said that the serious incident in Tunisia is being investigated by the local security forces alongside the efforts of security officials in Israel. All possibilities are being examined, and at this stage it is not possible to unequivocally determine the motive for the incident. According to Tunisia, this is a criminal incident; however, the Jewish community in Djerba is convinced that this is a terrorist attack.
In Tunisia, they made sure to leave the public in the dark about the attack until late at night, even while the hundreds of Jewish worshipers were barricaded inside the synagogue and heard gunshots from outside. At first, the authorities strongly insisted that this was an incident that had nothing to do with the synagogue and its visitors, and that it took place at the Tunisian Navy site located nearby.
However, during the night the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior published another message, which presented in more detail the incident that took place there. A statement from the Ministry of the Interior states that a security man murdered his co-worker, stole the ammunition and tried to get into the synagogue. He opened fire indiscriminately at the security personnel who were there, and in response they opened fire at him, killing him and preventing him from reaching the compound. On Wednesday morning, the Tunisian authorities announced that two more security personnel were murdered, bringing the total number of those murdered to five.