Dr. David Gerbi, a Libyan Jewish Jungian psychoanalyst who found refuge in Italy after the pogroms of 1967, has cast his lot with the Libyan rebels in Bengazi and their interim government, the National Transitional Council.
The first Libyan Jew to join the rebels, he has returned to Rome after a week of volunteer work at the Bengazi Psychiatric Hospital, teaching his colleagues there the techniques of healing post-traumatic stress disorder.
Gerbi dedicates his life to retrieving his several identities while working for democracy and reconciliation. In 2004, he was appointed by the UN High Commission for Refugees to serve as a Witness for Peace mentor, and in 2007 he was named the commission’s Ambassador for Peace in South Africa.
One of his principle aims is salvaging the Libyan Jewish-Arab cultural heritage (dating as far back as the third century BCE) from which he and all Libyan Jews now dispersed across the world were so abruptly severed following repeated Arab riots and massacres related to political incitement against the State of Israel, notably in 1945, 1948 and 1967.
“I was warmly welcomed in Bengazi by the leaders of the rebel government as a returned exile, as a Jew, an Italian, a psychoanalyst, and as a Libyan citizen with full rights to travel and live in Libya,” Gerbi told The Jerusalem Post last week.
Gerbi feels the time is ripe for exiled Libyan Jews to openly support the National Transitional Council and its struggle for democracy and human rights. During his visit last month to the Rabbi Cyril Harris Jewish Community Centre in Johannesburg, its president, Hazel Cohen, commended Gerbi for his “courage to break the psycho-genetic culture of silence that has beset the exiled Jews of Libya and to speak out about the oppression and crimes against humanity committed by the Gaddafi regime.”
Gerbi hopes that with the advent of a democratic and pluralistic Libya, exiled Jews will be permitted to regain their passports and return for travel, work or residence.
He plans to propose a proper religious burial of the remains of Libyan Jews in the Bengazi cemetery (whose bones are presently stored in trunks), the re-consecration of the Homs and Derna Jewish Cemeteries, the reconstruction of the synagogues of Tripoli and Jefren (Yafran), and renewed negotiations regarding collective and individual property confiscated from the Jewish community by the Gaddafi regime.
In pursuing these dreams for his people, Gerbi has repeatedly risked his safety in the past 10 years by going on solo missions to Libya (in 2002, 2007 and 2009). He even tried to persuade Muammar Gaddafi in person, under the tent set up for him during his visit to Rome last year, to support these efforts – but to no avail.
During Gerbi’s sojourn in Tripoli in 2007, Libyan police arrested him and confiscated six mezuzot he had brought with him, and the money he had hoped to use to begin the restoration of the Sla Dar Bisni Synagogue. They kept the mezuzot but later returned the money.
Now in Israel to attend the wedding of a nephew, Gerbi plans an immediate return to the Bengazi Psychiatric Hospital to continue his volunteer work.
He hopes to eventually become an official voice for the revival of Jewish life in Libya.