How 1948 Divided a Close-Knit Community Of Muslim and Jewish Berbers In Morocco

Nous étions égaux, juifs et musulmans, il n y avait aucune problème, aucune bagarre, on était comme des frères…Les musulmans venaient dormir chez les juifs pour monter la garde contre les ennemies [les autres tribus berbères]”

“We were equal, Jews and Muslims, there were never any problems, never any fights and we were like brothers…The Muslims used to sleep in the Jewish houses to watch out for enemies [from the other Berber tribes]”

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They were promised housing and jobs during the exodus of the 60s to Israel. The mass immigration of Jews from Morocco, who had peacefully existed for centuries alongside their Muslim brothers and sisters, in fact led them to a different reality. Those who left with nothing struggled in the face of racism unbeknownst to them in their previous lives in Africa. When Israel was declared a state in 1948, small cracks began to show between the Jewish and Muslim-Berber community of the Atlas Mountains that had happily coexisted since the Roman times. The citizens of this mountainous and somewhat secluded community worked, traded, ate and lived together in harmony until 1948. It is estimated that in this particular year, 265,000 Jews lived in the country and currently, the population stands at around 2500, concentrated in the main cities.

In 1940, the Nazi-controlled Vichy government ordered that all Jews were to be excluded from public functions; Sultan Mohamed V stood against these racist decrees and continued to invite the rabbis of Morocco to throne celebrations. After the establishment of the Israeli state, tensions rose between Muslims and Jewish communities, but rarely led to violence – throughout the 1950s Zionist organisations encouraged emigration, particularly among the poorest who they believed would be able to aid the construction of Israel. Morocco’s independence ceased to inhibit immigration, which at its worst soared to over 24,000 in 1955 despite the continual instatement of Jews in several high-powered political positions. The government chose to ban movement to Israel for 7 years until 1964 and by 1967, the Jewish population had dropped by over 200,000. The Six Day war highlighted clear lines of demarcation between Zionists and other Moroccans which bolstered the mass movement of the Jewish population, but by the 1970s emigration shifted towards Europe and the US.

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Despite their disproportionate population size, Jews still play a significant role in Moroccan politics and business and the government continues to financially support Jewish schools and synagogues. Today, Moroccans in Israel are close to 1 million and constitute the second largest Jewish community.

Jews have a long, fruitful and peaceful history in Africa and lived well amongst Arabs and Muslims, despite what the media would desire that you believe.

Noora Ismail

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