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We must probe Eritrea’s grave desecration

Dozens of graves in a Jewish cemetery in the eastern African nation of Eritrea were desecrated last week

    Dozens of graves have been destroyed in Eritrea
    Dozens of graves have been destroyed in Eritrea

    Jews have a long history in Eritrea. Many first moved there in the late 19th century from neighbouring Aden, in modern-day Yemen, for the commercial opportunities the region offered. They prospered as a consequence.

    Asmara, the capital, became home to a vibrant Jewish community of some 500 individuals at its peak.

    Through emigration and death in later years there is now only one Jewish citizen left in the city. He does his best to look after the cemetery and the synagogue, but catastrophe struck this week when an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported the desecration of Asmara’s Jewish cemetery.

    It appears the attacks took place in stages: one grave was destroyed about a year ago, then a handful of others were targeted, then there was an act of destruction that struck practically all of them.

    These days, the Jews of Eritrean descent mostly live in London and Israel. We have full confidence that the Eritrean government, with the co-operation of the Israeli Embassy in Asmara, will get to the bottom of this heinous act by tracking down and arresting the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.

    But our hearts are also broken. The destruction of these tombs would have taken a major act of force, not least because some of the marble slabs are quite substantial in their thickness.

    Most, if not all Jews from Eritrea have family or relatives buried in Asmara. We are anxious to see the perpetrators caught and punished.

    Our thoughts are also with the beautiful synagogue they have left behind.

    We wait with baited breath to hear that future threats are eliminated by the capture of the culprits.

    I must emphasise that Jews in Eritrea had never experienced antisemitism and had a good relationship with all its other citizens of every faith.

    Indeed, the governments of Israel and Eritrea have always enjoyed a good relationship with each other. This continues to be so today: Israel is still represented in the country through its embassy in Asmara.

    In the coming weeks, we expect there will be updates on this situation that we hope will bring comfort to those affected by this sad occurrence.


    The author, who asked to disguise his surname for fear of reprisals to his family, is a descendant of the Eritrean Jewish community.