Back On Libyan Soil

Back On Libyan Soil

Raphael Luzon was bar-mitzvah age when he left his home and his homeland. Along with most of Libya’s 7,000 remaining Jews, Luzon’s family fled, virtually empty-handed in 1967, after anti-Jewish riots threatened the Jewish community following Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War.

Luzon settled in England, but his heart stayed in Libya.

One recent day, after two years of lobbying, he received a phone call from a Libyan consul in Britain — Libya’s government, which had barred Jews from returning for four decades, was granting Luzon permission to go there.

Two days later Luzon was back in Libya, with his sister and octogenarian mother.

It was like “a dream,” he said, according to

Chairman of the Jewish Libyan Community in England, he visited his birthplace in Benghazi, which is on the Mediterranean 600 miles east of Tripoli.

“We … met our loved ones amid tears and great longing for friends we have never forgotten,” Luzon said. He also met several Libyan officials.

In recent years, Libya has indicated that it would compensate Jews who were forced to flee the country.

Jews have lived in Libya for more than two millennia. The Jewish population, which was about 20,000 early in the 20th century and peaked at over 30,000 in the 1940s; it quickly dropped after anti-Jewish violence in 1945 after North Africa was liberated by Allied troops, and after more riots in 1948. Most Libyan Jews went to Israel or to Italy, which had earlier colonized Libya.

By 1967 some 7,000 remained, Luzon’s family among them. About 100 were there when Col. Muammar Gaddafi came to power in 1969.

The last known Jew of Libya left in 2003.

“Everyone is really in love with Libya. I have no sentiment of revenge or spirit of hatred,” Luzon told reporters, back on Libyan soil. “All the Jewish community [outside of Libya] is waiting for my return so I can tell them about the results of this visit. All the Libyan Jews living in Palestine and Europe and America, and there are 110,000 Jews of them, yearn for Libya and wish to return, or just to visit.”

Today, Luzon is back in London, and the Jewish population of Libya again is zero.

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