The stones of La Goulette’s buildings are mosaics of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, evident in the minarets’ windows, domes, church bells and walls of the town’s ancient castle known as Karaka. This small town port town stands as an embodiment of civilizations and religions and has attracted many Italian and Spanish immigrants from Sicily and Andalusia—some call it ‘petite Sicily’.

The stones of La Goulette’s buildings are mosaics of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, evident in the minarets’ windows, domes, church bells and walls of the town’s ancient castle known as Karaka. This small town port town stands as an embodiment of civilizations and religions and has attracted many Italian and Spanish immigrants from Sicily and Andalusia—some call it ‘petite Sicily’.

On Roosevelt Avenue, the largest boulevard in La Goulette, with luxurious cafes and restaurants, stands a large residential compound known as El-Baratel, which overlooks the sea— more than 60 families have lived there for years.

In August 2008, a telegram was issued by La Goulette’s mayor in which he ordered El-Baratel compound’s residents to immediately vacate their houses or be evicted by force in case of noncompliance.

On January 12, 2010 El-Baratel neighborhood was cordoned off at dawn by several security agents accompanied by dogs. Residents left their homes in a panic and stood outside shivering on a rainy morning. Their homes were bulldozed, their entire property was vandalized and their money and valuables were stolen. They were savagely attacked and beaten and were forced out of their homes, according to complaints filed by the residents.

“The demolition order issued by La Goulette municipality on August 12, 2008 was not preceded by any alert or notification, which invalidates any type of legal status,” according to the residents.

Delayed justice

The examining magistrate recently issued imprisonment orders against seven defendants who were implicated in that violation under former President Ben Ali including Lutfi Brahem, former Regional Director for Equipment, Munther Furaiji, Governor of Tunis, FathiEl-Sukari, Office Managerof the Minister of State Property, Ali Riahi, La Goulette Mayor and Mohamed Maali, former Municipality Chief.

They were charged with forging papers confirming that the demolished houses had been dilapidated, in addition to coercing the residents to sign selling contracts.

A former resident of that neighborhood said, “None of the residents knew anything about the demolition decision neither did we know or ask about who was behind the demolition order.  All that we thought about was to take up the issue with courts where our case remained pending for more than two years.”

He added astonishingly, “On 12 January 2010, La Goulette Municipality in the presence of the mayor started destroying the houses even before the court had made the demolition decision which until then remained a disputed issue.” He explained that the act of storming the houses at dawn will never be erased from the neighborhood residents’ memory. “All residents were forcibly removed and detained for six hours in the buses which were brought in for this purpose until the demolition work was completed.”

The truth comes out

Initially, the residents did not know the reason for the demolition, but the secrets behind the story later unfolded when they realized that there was a plan spearheaded by one-time mayor of La Goulette, Imed Trabelsi (brother of Leila Ben Ali, wife of former president) who wanted to build a tourist resort in that region overlooking La Goulette Beach,” according to what is now a widespread

Ben Ali’s in-laws allegedly wanted La Goulette to become one of their additional outlets for quick profits and established entrepreneurship, even if it happened at the expense of displacing people who until now still live in neighboring areas like Khairuddin and Souani el-Romman in the Karam district.

Maryam Dellagi, lawyer, said, “The state has sold the property to Tahzib & Taj did real estate agency without consulting the original owners or nullifying the sale contracts that proved their ownership of the same property.”

Boundless ambitions

Imed Trabelsi’s action did not only render those residents homeless, but he also drew out a blueprint to control all neighboring houses so that he could realize his lifetime dream of making La Goulette a city like Dubai, where no one enters without a visa, according to Saliha Najar, a resident of El-Baratel neighborhood who confirmed that what happened to her “was a simple example of a fraudulent action carried out by the Trabelsi family against Tunisians,” she said.

Saliha added that she faced a grievance for more than 20 years. Her case dates back to 1991 when she bought a house adjacent to El-Baratel, but its owner, who is using it for rent, refused to vacate it.

The owner of the property, Murdoch Ujan Shamama offered his house for sale to its tenants, but they refused to buy it although they invested the property which they have never owned.

The owner filed several lawsuits against those tenants to vacate his house for refusing to pay the rent and then he decided to sell it to Saliha Najar.

Fifty-year-old Saliha said, “When I bought the property, I completed all required legal procedures then I requested the tenant either to pay the rent or vacate the house. But I faced the same problem the original owner encountered. Since then, I began my journey through courts’ corridors for more than 20 years seeking an equitable solution to my ordeal.”

An initial ruling was first issued in favor of Saliha whereby the tenant was to pay her a fine, but the defendant appealed the ruling. Again, the court’s verdict was in Saliha’s favor. That was followed by another appeal at the High Court of Appealand once again that court judged in Saliha’s favor. However, the case was returned to the Court of First Instance amid the astonishment of Saliha and her lawyer.

She did not know why that tenant decided not vacate the house without a valid reason until Imed Trabelsi’s plan was disclosed. Trabelsi allegedly promised to pay that tenant TD 100,000 (about $75,000) in return for the rented house.

Saliha said after a while, Imed Trabelsi repeatedly turned up in that neighborhood and used to take pictures of the place. He would speak in public about his intention to make La Goulette, a city like Dubai where no one enters without a visa.

Selaiha had no other option but to resort to the Ministry of Justice, where she spent more than a year writing to the ministry and hoping to receive an approval for meeting the Minister of Justice under the former regime, but to no avail.

That situation continued until the judge issued a ruling to revoke the contract. “It took the relevant courts 20 years to rule for termination of the contract,” said Saliha.

An unfinished dream

After the revolution, Saliha contacted the Justice Ministry and demanded to meet the Minister to explain the grievances she went through for over two decades and to protest against the judge who issued an unjust verdict to revoke the contract. Ironically however, on the day she headed to the Ministry of Justice, she discovered that the same ‘unjust’ judge was in the Ministry and had been promoted to a position close to the minister. She again had to carry on with her agonizing ordeal and leave the ministry without meeting the minister.

Saliha, though, did not lose hope and later contacted the fact-finding committee, hoping to find someone who would shake the dust off those facts that remained hidden for years.

Saliha is now awaiting the Transitional Justice Law, which may bring justice to those with grievances. It is a law which is still highly debatable within the Constituent Assembly. Meanwhile, Saliha is still continuing her long journey through the corridors of judicial courts.

On June 4, 2013, a ruling was issued in her favor, but as usual her case was again appealed and deferred until November 27.