Conciliation between Israel and Morocco Isn’t Just about the Necessities of the Present, but Also Millennia of History

December 22, 2020 | Marie Daouda
About the author:

Herself a Frenchwoman of Moroccan descent, Marie Daouda explains the enthusiasm she feels for the normalization agreement between Jerusalem and Rabat, and seeks to place recent diplomacy in its historical context:

The first Jews in Morocco were Berbers, converted via commercial bonds as early as the 2nd century BCE. One of the most ancient synagogues [in the world] is in Zagora, [a city in southeastern a Morocco]; a funerary stone in the Roman ruins of Volubilis, [ in the norther part of the country], mentions Caecilianos, a member of the Jewish community, and some Jewish cemeteries have been in use for two millennia.

This original Jewish population was joined in the 7th century CE by refugees from Spain escaping the persecution of the Christian Visigoth kings. By that time the Maghreb had fallen to Arab invaders and provided a springboard for the conquest of Spain in 711, which would subsequently prove a more welcoming home to Jews for centuries. Yet Islamic rulers in Morocco had fits of intolerance, too: in 1033, the Muslim chieftain Tamim Ibn Izri massacred the Jews of Fez and forced the surviving women and children into slavery.

The arrival of Spanish Jews after the Reconquista coincided with more peaceful relations. . . . Paradoxically, because Jews worked in professions Muslims recoiled from for religious reasons, they found themselves in charge of essential diplomatic and commercial duties. . . . Moroccan Jews were not just moneylenders, but also extremely skillful craftsmen and artists. Their contribution to music, architecture, and literature was enormous.

Following [World War II], the first Jews to leave the country did so in order to follow the dream of an independent Israel, but conditions at home were to drive many more away in the following decades.

And when I hear Sephardi grandmothers talking in Moroccan Arabic with that distinctive Jewish accent, either in Paris’s Sentier or on Brent Street in northwest London, I feel a kinship that is hard to put into words but that can move me to tears. And so in these troubled times, when anti-Semitism takes a new face, it warms my heart to see my native country welcoming back its most genuinely Moroccan citizens.

Read more on UnHerd: