Tunisia: after the attack on a synagogue in Djerba, the concern of the tourism sector


On the island of Djerba, May 11, 2023.

In the streets of the Jewish quarter of Djerba, Nathalie and her friends eat a last brig before going to the airport to return to France on Friday May 11. “We decided to bring forward our return date to Marseille”, she regrets. The faithful who came for the Ghriba pilgrimage was very affected by the attack on the island’s synagogue on Tuesday evening, which killed five people, including three members of the security forces. One of the civilian victims, Benjamin Haddad, was part of the Jewish community of Marseille, just like her. “On are all traumatized. Next year, before coming, we will think twice. »

Read also: “It could have been a carnage”: survivors of the attack on a synagogue in Djerba in shock

A little further, the Farhi family decided to come and visit the religious building, believing they were doing an act of resistance. “We must not give in to terror, ever. Otherwise, it is to give reason ” to terrorists, explains Léa Farhi, for whom this is the first stay on the land of her parents. Although having had ” a lot of pain “she prefers not to stay cloistered in the hotel. “We were reassured about safety on the island”she says.

The day after the attack, the Tunisian authorities began a communication operation in an attempt not to tarnish the brand image of Djerba, a Mecca for Tunisian tourism. The use of the term “terrorist” was thus carefully avoided. “All stakeholders continue to work to ensure the success of the tourist season and to guarantee the best reception and stay conditions for visitors. “said Tourism Minister Mohamed Moez Belhassine during a crisis meeting held on Wednesday morning. The minister also toured the hotels to chat with the pilgrims, still in shock.

Brand image

Later in the day, President Kaïs Saïed took the floor to believe that the assailant – who was killed by the security forces – had tried to “destabilize the country” and of “sabotage the tourist season”. He reaffirmed that Tunisia was a “safe country”. Opposite, some voices are raised to denounce a hasty communication campaign, out of step with the mourning of the Jewish community.

“It is a terrorist and anti-Semitic act, (the killer) did not attack a hotel or a beach but a synagoguesays Yamina Thabet, president of the Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities. But the priority of the authorities is the tourist season, the only official visit to the island after the attack was that of the Minister of Tourism, it says a lot about the lack of respect for the victims. »

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In Djerba, however, government communication clearly reflects local concerns. ” I understand the attitude of the authorities but I also understand the incomprehension of those in shock at this communicationtempers Mohamed Jerad, general manager of the Radisson Blu hotel on the island. The Minister was in his role because we have no choice but to continue to fight for the tourist season and for all the people who depend on this sector on the island. »

In Djerba, nearly one in two jobs is directly linked to tourism, according to the regional hotel federation. Over the past ten years, the sector has experienced great difficulties. First following the 2011 revolution which ousted President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali from the power he had held for almost twenty-four years, then because of the series of attacks that hit the country in 2015 and 2016, finally during the covid-19 pandemic.

” Bad memories “

At the edge of the Radisson Blu swimming pool, Joséphine and Jeannette, two Swiss tourists learned the news of the attack, committed a few hundred meters away, on television. It didn’t change much and Jeannette, who is visiting the island for the third time, could see herself coming back. But the yoga teacher is afraid that her clients are now reluctant to come for an internship in Djerba.

“It brings back bad memories”, said Faouzi Sfaxi, a seller of handicrafts in the city of Houmt Souk, referring to the attack that had already hit the Ghriba synagogue in 2002, killing 21 people, most of them tourists. Germans. Like the other vendors in the market, he carefully scrutinizes the crowds in the alleys of the old town. ” Tourists keep coming, going out, he observes. Elet’s hope that doesn’t change. »

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Jelel Henchiri, president of the regional hotel federation for south-eastern Tunisia, understands the criticism of government communication but believes there are “misinterpretations” : “ Life must not stop after the attacks. Continuing to work, continuing to live, is also a way of responding to the perpetrators of these killings. »


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