David Gerbi stands in front of Tripoli's main synagogue Sunday. (Abdel Magid al-Fergany/AP)
David Gerbi, a Libyan-born Jewish psychoanalyst, lived in exile in Italy for 40 years. He returned to Libya this past spring to assist the Libyan rebel forces during the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi.
Gerbi's dream in the aftermath of Gadhafi's fall was to restore Tripoli's old Jewish synagogue, and he claimed to have received permission from Libya's interim authorities, the National Transition Council, and a local Muslim cleric to proceed.
However, just two days into his internationally-noted effort, Gerbi's plan was stymied by threats of violence from a hostile crowd of Libyans who gathered outside the old Tripoli synagogue where Gerbi was praying, National Public Radio's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported in a sad dispatch from Tripoli.
"The building is not safe. The area is not safe. There are a lot of people armed. We don't know what happens. So the best thing for him is to leave," Hadi Belazi, a man in the crowd outside the synagogue, told NPR.
Though the Jewish community in the north African nation "dates back thousands of years," for the last half century, "there was virtually no Jewish presence in Libya," Garcia-Navarro reports. Libya's Jewish population emigrated in waves, after the establishment of Israel in 1948 and again after the 1967 war. The remainder were ousted after Gadhafi's rise to power in 1969.
Anti-Semitism was rampant in Libyan culture the last 40 years, Garcia-Navarro observed. Apparently it remains so, in the aftermath of Gadhafi's ouster, which was greatly assisted by NATO war planes and UN resolutions mandating the humanitarian intervention.
"They told me that if I am not leaving now, they are going to come and they are going to kill me because they don't want Jews here," a frustrated Gerbi told Garcia-Navarro, as his security guard whisked him away.
A spokesman for the Western-backed National Transition Council said that Gerbi did not have permission to restore the synagogue.
"It's an illegal act because he has not permission from anybody," NTC spokesman Jalal el-Gallal told NPR. "I think it's a very sensitive issue at a very critical time. You are inciting something by not going through the proper channels."
Gerbi, who is 56, provided psychological treatment to Libyan rebel forces during the anti-Gadhafi uprising, and was dubbed the "revolutionary Jew."
You can listen to Garcia-Navarro's full audio dispatch here.
- Moammar Gadhafi