Two years ago Joseph W spent a year in Melilla, a Spanish enclave adjoining Morocco. He took some magnificent pictures and learned about the Jews who used to live in the region. In this post for Harry's Place he tries to tackle some of the issues raised by Rachel Shabi's Comment is Free post (with thanks: Avril):
The city is brimming with the modernist architecture of Enrique Nieto, who famously designed key parts of Melilla’s main synagogue, mosque and cathedral. Melilla prides itself not only on its vibrant religious communities, but also on the quirky beauty of its religious architecture.
Here is Melilla’s Central Mosque that Nieto designed:
And here is the Or Zaruah synagogue, also designed by Nieto:
The curator told me that this was the most beautiful synagogue in all of Africa. It felt almost as if Nieto’s creativity was holding the city together. Throughout the past five centuries, Melilla has been a safe-haven for Jews escaping persecution in Iberia and Morocco.
However, over the past century, not all north-African Jews have enjoyed the relative peace and security that Melilla provides. Some, tragically, were the victims of pogroms.
A couple of years ago, I travelled from Melilla to nearby-Oujda, wandering around its majestic medina:
On 7-8 June 1948, a pogrom took place in Oujda, a Moroccan town close to Melilla in which four Jews were killed. Another pogrom took place in nearby mining town Jerada on the same day, where thirty-eight were killed, triggering a mass-exodus of Jews from Morocco, as 18,000 of the 265,000 Jews left for Israel soon after. This was a great shame as Morocco’s king had proved a great friend to the Jews by defying Hitler, and to this day Morocco encourages its citizens to understand the Holocaust.
Similar pogroms occurred in Syria, Bahrain and Libya from 1945-48, fuelled by tension and confusion surrounding the conflict in Palestine. In Palestine, reciprocal Jewish and Arab violence tragically led to the exodus of 700,000 Arabs from their homes in 1948. That same year, thousands of Jews had to flee the West Bank after Jordan annexed the zone.
I would imagine that the Jews of Morocco (and other countries) felt very much like the Arabs of Palestine. No home, exiled from their land and not of their choosing. Like their forefather Abraham, they would have to journey to places they had never known before – like their prophet Moses feeling like strangers in strange lands.
Above: Arab refugees 1948/ Jewish refugees 1948
Naturally, the Palestinian-Arab and the Arab-Jewish refugees regularly come up in political debates about Israel and Palestine.