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Controversial Moroccan Film Searches Out Jews Who Left For Israel

Kamal Hachkar, director of the documentary “Tinghir to Jerusalem”   gestures from a balcony in Casablanca , Friday, Feb, 15, 2013. Once home to some 300,000 Jews, the largest population in the Arab world, Morocco is increasingly taking a fresh look at its long history with Judaism. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

Kamal Hachkar, director of the documentary “Tinghir to Jerusalem” gestures from a balcony in Casablanca , Friday, Feb, 15, 2013. Once home to some 300,000 Jews, the largest population in the Arab world, Morocco is increasingly taking a fresh look at its long history with Judaism. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

French Moroccan, Kamal Hachkar’s movie has sparked controversy amongst some Moroccoans because it is perceived as “normalizing” relations with Israel. One Moroccan Jewish critic, Sion Assidon, described strangely in the AP article below as a “surprising critic” (as if Jews cannot criticize Israel) of the movie says,

“The film is effectively a vehicle for the message of normalizing with Israel,” Assidon told the AP. “The people we see are never once questioned about the essential issue, which is that they are colonizers occupying the land of another people that were earlier expelled.”

That would be an important question to ask.

This AP article touches on the subject of why Moroccan Jews left Morocco, though it does not go into much depth on the issue. What it does say however belies the Zionist narrative that all Arab Jews left their ancient homes because of Muslim or Arab persecution.

I have not seen the film but I do think it would be very interesting to watch. Have any loonwatchers seen the film? What are your thoughts?

Morocco film searches out Jews who left for Israel

RABAT, Morocco — Hundreds of members of Islamist and left wing political groups demonstrated outside the Tangiers Film Festival earlier this month against a documentary about Moroccan Jews living in Israel. They claimed that director Kamal Hachkar was promoting “normalization” with the Jewish state.

But Hachkar was not expelled from the artists’ union, nor was his film banned, and he wasn’t ostracized from Morocco’s intellectual class, as has happened in similar cases in Egypt and elsewhere. Instead, directors and actors circulated a petition of support, and his film went on to win best work by a new director at the festival.

Once home to some 300,000 Jews, the largest population in the Arab world, Morocco is increasingly taking a fresh look at its long history with Judaism and is spurning the flat rejection of all things Hebrew found in so many other Arab countries.

In the film, “Tinghir-Jerusalem: Echoes from the Mellah,” Hachkar talks to people in Berber villages high in the Atlas mountains about their memories of the Jews suddenly leaving for Israel in the 1960s. He then travels to Jerusalem and finds many of these Jews, still speaking Moroccan Arabic and the Berber language, fondly reminiscing about the land they left behind.

“It tells the story of a forgotten part of Morocco’s history, a history that is not taught at school,” Hachkar told The Associated Press. “My goal is to tell the human story and to defend the plurality of Moroccan history and identity.”

The director, who was born in Tinghir but left to live in France with his father at the age of 6 months, has toured all over Morocco showing the film to what he says were packed houses. Most people were initially suspicious, but warmed to the subject when they saw Jews speaking Moroccan Arabic and even the Berber dialect of the High Atlas, he said.

According to Zhor Rehihil, the curator of the Museum for Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca — founded in 1997 and unique in the region — Jews have been part of Morocco since Jewish merchants came to North Africa with the Phoenicians hundreds of years before the birth of Christ.

For centuries they were found in the mountain villages alongside Morocco’s Berbers — the original inhabitants of North Africa — who mostly converted to Islam with the arrival of the Arab tribes in the 7th century.

Morocco’s Jewish population was invigorated in 1492 when Spain expelled Muslims and Jews, most of whom fled to Morocco and brought with them the sophisticated urban culture of Andalucia.

“The Jews in Morocco were everywhere, in the cities, in the small villages. It was a country with a large and vibrant community of Jews and with their departure, Morocco lost a large part of its history,” said Rehihil.

At its peak in the 1950s, there were an estimated 300,000 Jews in Morocco out of a population of some 8 million.

With the establishment of Israel and the encouragement of Zionists, Morocco’s Jews left. Some went for religious reasons to seek the long promised land, some for a better life than in economically troubled post-colonial Morocco, still others who feared persecution.

Unlike elsewhere in the Arab world, the creation of Israel did not spark widespread animosity or attacks on Jews. There were isolated incidents but no national campaign. Many Jews left, however, after being told by Zionist agents they were in danger, said Rehihil.

“Each time there was an Arab-Israeli war, there would be tensions and the Jews would become afraid and some more would leave,” she said, adding that most had left by the 1973 war.

Some 5,000 now remain, almost all in Morocco’s commercial capital of Casablanca.

As in the rest of the region, however, there has been a heavy focus in Morocco on the plight of the Palestinian people and many Moroccans have started equating Jews with Israel. In May 2003, a series of al-Qaida-inspired bombings in Casablanca attacked, among other targets, a Jewish cemetery and a community center, which was empty at the time.

Protests against Israeli military actions are a regular occurrence, the most recent in November over the latest clashes in Gaza. Tens of thousands marched through Casablanca and Rabat in demonstrations attended by members of the governing moderate Islamist party.

“It’s not a matter of denying the history of Moroccan Jews nor attacking freedom of expression, but defending one of the principal foundations of the nation, which is to say, no to normalization with the Zionist entity,” said Mohammed Khiyi, a member of parliament with the Islamist Party for Justice and Development who demonstrated against Hachkar’s film on Feb. 5.

He contended that the film “is trying to do Zionist propaganda. The real Moroccan Jews were those which stayed in their country and were proud, not those the film tries to portray as victims of deportation to Palestine.”

A surprising critic of the film is one of Morocco’s Jews, Sion Assidon, a leftist activist, former political prisoner and a member of a group advocating the boycott of Israeli products.

“The film is effectively a vehicle for the message of normalizing with Israel,” Assidon told the AP. “The people we see are never once questioned about the essential issue, which is that they are colonizers occupying the land of another people that were earlier expelled.”

The Moroccan Jews in the film do look back fondly on how well they got on with their Muslim neighbors and lament the daily violence and hatred that characterize the tense relations in Israel today with the Palestinians.

About 1 million Jews of Moroccan origin now live in Israel. Some 50,000 Israelis — many of them Moroccan — visit Morocco every year, said Sam Ben Chetrit, the head of the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry, who moved to Israel from Morocco in 1963.

Ben Chetrit said that on a visit last year, “we were told (by legislators) ‘we are happy you are here, this is your home, but make sure you bring your children too.'”

Israel has had a friendlier relationship with Morocco than with other Arab countries, and over the decades, the two have had trade, diplomatic and intelligence links, which have dwindled since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in 2000. Tourism, however, has remained constant over the years.

Morocco’s monarchy, the real power in the country, has had a complex position of balancing advocacy for Palestinians with a historic role of defending the Jewish community.

On one hand it has presented itself as a protector of Muslim Jerusalem, founding the Jerusalem Committee of the Organization of Islamic Conference to fund projects to help the Palestinians living there. In a speech at an OIC meeting on February 6, King Mohammed VI condemned “the Israeli government’s aggressive, unilateral practices against the Palestinians,” namely the expansion of settlements.

Morocco played a behind the scenes role in the 1990s getting Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other and hosted Israel’s then prime minister, Shimon Peres, in 1986. Tzipi Livni, then Israeli opposition leader, attended a conference in 2009.

The monarchy has recently spoken more about preserving the Jewish heritage, and Judaism is enshrined as a component of the national identity in the 2011 constitution.

In a ceremony this month that included German parliament speaker Norbert Lammert, the king sent Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, of the same Islamist party whose members protested Hachkar’s movie, to inaugurate the renovation of the 17th century Slat Alfassiyine synagogue in Fez.

“We are calling for the restoration of all Jewish temples in the different cities of the kingdom so that they are not only places of worship but also spaces for cultural dialogue to renew the founding values of Moroccan civilization,” declared the king’s speech, which was read by the prime minister.

Rehihil said young Moroccans visiting the museum of Moroccan Judaism on school trips were often hesitant, until they saw how the clothes, caftans and other Jewish artifacts were familiar to them as just Moroccan.

Then the stories come out, she said, as people recalled their grandparents’ experiences with Jews.

“I am part of this new generation that did not live with the Jews,” said Rehihil, referring to those born after 1960.

“The Muslims were traumatized by the departure of the Jews as well. You will not meet a Moroccan who didn’t have someone in the family with a Jewish friend, a Jewish neighbor, or worked with a Jew, or whose grandmother learned embroidery with a Jew or whose grandfather did business with a Jew.”

Associated Press reporters Smail Bellaouali in Rabat, Morocco and Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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  • Reynardine

    At the time of the Vichy regime, and then of total Axis occupation, many French and North African Jews were protected by their Muslim neighbors, but if they and their protectors were less menaced than the Frank family, it was only because of their greater distance from Berlin. In the 1960’s, many of those who clearly remembered the menace were not yet old. I myself knew Holocaust survivors. CPTSD does not begin to describe it. Is it any wonder they were spooked, or that Israel (at that time progressive) looked “safe”to them, even though the lawfully delineated borders circumscribed an area that would have fit within Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties? But times and nations have changed, and the generation of today are the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the survivors. They might well, if shown friendship, be willing to return to the land of their forbears, with skills, talent, culture, resources, and all.

  • AlKhalil

    We are not just expressing solidarity with the Palestinian cause, but also contempt for Israhelli atrocities. Evil Zionazis should be derided and humiliated as well as defeated.

  • Ilisha

    I think we should be able to express solidarity with the Palestinians and concern for their plight without resorting to demonizing the Israelis. Terms like “Zionazi” and “Israehell” are unhelpful, to say the least.

  • Nur Alia binti Ahmad

    This is a good theme for a movie. Although, where I am from and how we dialouge about the Palistine/Israeli situation, we do not equate polticial Zionism with Jews or the regular Israeli citizen, the film might help break the western discource from doing that. Then we can speak freely, frank and honestly withour being demonised with pejoritives.
    I dont see the problem with showing Jews and Muslims ‘normalizing’ and telling the true history of thier relationship. I feel that this is one time when politics need to step out of the way (however, I do still support economic pressure against the Zionist regime) and let us hear those Jewish people’s stories.

  • Leftwing_Muslim_Alliance

    Good point gus
    Those guys need a break . They have one of the highest rates of literacy of any group in Africa , are well organised and could be a shining example of a truely socialist state instead they are effectivly confined to refugee camps.
    Sir David

  • AlKhalil

    Many Arabs I know support independence for large native ethnic groups like the Berbers or the Kurdish people. Even a tyrant like Saddam Hussein gave the Kurds autonomous self rule in Kurdistan. The problem here, however, is not comparable to the plight of the Palestinians and the dispossession of Palestine by a foreign group of colonists.
    In Western Sahara, North Africa and Kurdistan, the issue is only a matter of governance resulting from the former colonial powers establishing the modern states without regard to the ethnic or national aspiration of the people living there. It would have been more appropriate to create borders based on the desires of the peoples concerned and not based on European powers’ bargaining territories with each other. However, while these groups are not independent, they at least were not dispossessed or ethnically cleansed from their homelands. The Kurds still live in the same places they had always lived, the Berbers are still in their villages, towns and cities throughout North Africa, etc. I support their independence if they so desire, and surely they are large enough to form a viable state, but we all know that any state, once established, becomes self-preserving and would not easily relinquish territories or authority. Yet, of course, we have the example of Sudan where this sort of thing was possible but only after some sort of a civil war.
    This is not the case with the Palestinians and Palestine at all. In this case, the plan from the start was to completely eliminate the Palestinians, usurp their homeland and to give it to a foreign group of colonist from Europe. They wanted to erase the Palestinians and Palestine from existence. And to this day, since the Zionazis had failed to achieve their goal, they are still suffering as refugees scattered in camps around the region and unable to return to their homes, as an oppressed occupied people under a criminal military regime, or as fifth=class citizens in an apartheid colonial state called Israhell.

  • Zakariya Ali Sher

    Unfortunately, the rest of the Arab world is either ignorant of or apathetic towards the plight of the Saharauis. No joke, I actually had a class with an Egyptian who got all passionate over the issue of Palestinian sovereignty, but when asked about Western Sahara said “They had their chance.”

    Interestingly, while the Arab League as a whole supports Morocco’s claim (except for Algeria of course), the African Union supports Sahraoui independence and even recognizes Western Sahara as a member state.

  • Gus Emil Lahoud

    what about western sahara?

  • mindy1

    This looks like a thought provoking movie

  • Solid Snake

    Those prisons are all over the Arab world. When you have dictators and monarchs who consider their own people as expendable when it comes to pleasing their Western ‘friends’, you end up having these black sites. And I don’t think that the people of Morocco or any other Arab/North African country wanted black sites on their soil. The disconnect between leaders and citizens is so great in the Arab and Muslim world that sometimes I wonder if these leaders know who they are supposed to be working for. But that is just the nature of government, I suppose. Those who appear to be enemies in public are friends behind closed doors. Those who claim to be allies constantly spy on each other . Those sort of things..

  • mjasghar786

    Morocco – the place with all those secret CIA sites where people who had been kidnapped were sent to be tortured? Not exactly a shining beacon

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