Due to the international context of tensions since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Jewish pilgrimage of Ghriba, which is held every May on the Tunisian island of Djerba, will be limited to this year to religious rituals inside the synagogue, organizers said Friday, June 19. The pilgrimage to the Ghriba, the oldest synagogue in Africa, which usually attracts thousands of Jewish faithful from all over the world, is to be held this year from May 24 to 26.

“It was decided to organize the annual religious visit to the Ghriba by limiting it to religious rituals inside the synagogue,” the organizers wrote in a statement. “The pilgrimage is not canceled, but will be limited to religious rites. The decision was taken exceptionally, taking into account the international context,” one of them told Agence France-Presse.

“Security will be reinforced due to the context [the war between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza], and also after what happened last year,” continued the organizer. During the pilgrimage in May 2023, five people were killed in front of the synagogue, in an attack carried out by a member of the national guard.

Festivities canceled

Usually, the pilgrimage, which in some years has brought together up to 8,000 people from all over the world, is marked by a very festive and colorful procession behind a large menorah, the Jewish candelabra, mounted on three wheels and decorated with fabrics.

According to the same source, “there will not be the festive side (…) only the possibility of coming to pray and lighting candles, everything will take place inside the synagogue”. There will probably be few visitors from abroad, according to the latter, because there will be no organized trips. Potential visitors will come “individually only”.

The Ghriba synagogue – whose construction dates back to the 6th century BC – was also targeted in 2002 by a suicide truck bomb which left twenty-one people dead. While the country had more than 100,000 Jews before independence in 1956, this figure has fallen to around a thousand members.

Tunisia is a fervent supporter of the Palestinian cause. Its president, Kaïs Saïed, denounced an ongoing “genocide” in the Gaza Strip.