Yoav Hattab
Yoav HattabScreenshot

The loss of a "child of Tunisia" has plunged its small Jewish community into mourning after Yoav Hattab, the son of Tunisia's chief rabbi, was killed in last week's jihadist attack on a Paris kosher supermarket.

Hattab, a 21-year-old who was in France for international business studies, had a bright future in front of him.

"Tunisia paid a heavy price" in the attacks which killed 17 people over three days in the French capital, said Jacob Lellouche, who runs a restaurant in the Tunis suburb of La Goulette and is president of a Jewish cultural organisation.

Apart from Yoav, who held Tunisian citizenship, other victims had their roots in the predominantly Muslim country, such as renowned Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Georges Wolinski, psychiatrist Elsa Cayat, who wrote a column in the French satirical weekly, and Francois-Michel Saada, gunned down like Hattab in the supermarket.

Indeed the majority of France's Jewish community hail from north African countries, having fled persecution by the Arab-Muslim majority there.

Yoav Hattab, one of four Jewish victims buried in Jerusalem on Tuesday, was widely known among the Jewish community of 1,500 in Tunisia where his rabbi father also runs the capital's Jewish school.

Islamist terrorist Amedy Coulibaly last Friday took hostages at the supermarket, killing four before being shot dead by police, after having claimed he coordinated his attack with two brothers responsible for a killing spree in the offices of Charlie Hebdo to avenge its cartoons depicting the founder of Islam Mohammed.

Yoav "was a very dynamic person. There are those who are stand back and watch their lives. But him, he played an active role," said Moshe Uzan, a 25-year-old friend.

News of his death was even more heartbreaking for family and friends because initially they thought he was among the survivors.

"Watching footage of the released hostages, we said: 'That's him, that's Yoav!' before the  bad news struck," Uzan told AFP in a trembling voice.  

High hopes

For Lellouche, Yoav's death was "a great loss because he was a young man in whom you could place high hopes, who went to study in France firmly intent on coming back here one day."  

In a photograph posted on social networks, he is shown from behind with a kippa on his head and a Tunisian flag draped around his shoulders.  

He was someone "who wanted to prove that you could be involved in everything concerning our country without having necessarily to be a Muslim", said the restaurant owner.  

Daniel Cohen, Yoav's teacher of religion and the Hebrew language between the ages of nine and 18, deplored the loss of such a young life.

"Someone told me: 'Condolences'. I said: 'Condolences to Tunisia!' He wasn't only my son and that of his father, he was a child of Tunisia," Cohen said.

And a debate unfolding around the family's decision to bury Yoav in Israel instead of Tunisia has highlighted the precarious situation of Jews in Tunisia, where authorities have been criticized for turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism.

A gathering in memory of Yoav has been called for Saturday at the main synagogue in Tunisia's capital Tunis, the location of the country's other significant Jewish community.

Some commentators on the Facebook page announcing the event have voiced regret that the young man was buried in Jerusalem rather than back home in Tunisia. 

Uzan said it was a purely religious choice, not political, while Cohen pointed out that "Jerusalem is a sacred place (for) all religions".

Yoav's father Batou Hattab has told France 2 television that despite the massive public shows of solidarity in France against the attacks, Paris needed to take stronger action to protect its Jews.

"Living in Tunisia I can see that Tunisia has respect (for Jews). Even during the revolution (in 2011), there were no problems," he said.  

Cohen also said that Tunisian authorities "do all in their power to protect all its citizens, especially our community," although they were targeted in a 2002 suicide bombing on the island of Djerba, southern Tunisia, that left 21 dead.

The majority of Tunisia's Jewish community were forced to flee during the mid-twentieth century, when Arab states ethnically-cleansed their Jewish populations in "revenge" for the founding of the State of Israel.

Although recent years have been calmer for the country's tiny Jewish community, sporadic attacks have been committed against Jews by Muslim extremists. In May of last year a Jewish father of four was brutally stabbed in Djerba, where the majority of Tunisian Jews live. The previous month, on the eve of Passover, a Jewish man was injured in a similar attack.

AFP contributed to this article.