Sunday, June 02, 2013

Reasons for Moroccan exodus erased

 The Marketplace in Marrakesh

This article appeared on Adi Schwartz's blog in Hebrew a few months ago - but is still extremely relevant. A whole generation of Jews from Morocco hid from their children the real reasons why they came to Israel, Adi Schwartz has found. Thanks to Orna for her translation from Hebrew.  (With thanks: Yoel )
In recent years I have dealt with the circumstances in which the Jews came from Arab countries left. In my talks I am asked: why do Jews from Arab countries do not tell of the experiences that befell them?

Everyone knows about the treatment of the Jews in Europe, but hardly anything about the situation of  Jews in Arab countries. The questions is mainly about the Moroccan Jews, as according to widespread belief, their situation was excellent and the reason for their immigration was for “Zionist reasons”.
This week, Sivan Vizman, a law student at Kiriat Ono’s academic college, sent me her thesis that deals with the legal status of the Arab countries’ Jews. It turns out that even she, whose grandfather is a Moroccan Jew, did not know anything about the true circumstances that brought him to Israel and about the treatment he and his family had to face. With her permission I am quoting from the introduction to her work:
“One evening, while sitting with my best friend Ziad Abu Aloha, our conversation drifted to his longing for his family. Ziad, a descendant of Palestinian refugees from East Jerusalem, lamented about the status of refugees and the right of return - in his opinion is a pre-requisite for the peace process. He wished to see an end to rising unemployment and overcrowding in refugee camps.  He spoke of wrongs, injustice and a feeling of alienation by the Palestinians towards the State of Israel.

I felt empathy for his pain and asked him if he knew that similar feelings many Jews originally from Arab Countries. Ziad was stunned and asked me to tell him about it. I told him what I heard about a Moroccan Jew and the tribulations that he and many others  suffered when they were forced to leave their land and immigrate to the newly created country – Israel.

I told him Mordechai’s story.

Mordechai owned a large and prosperous factory in Marrakesh, Morocco; he had a large house and good social and economic status that gave him great influence in his community. After the establishment of the state of Israel, many Moroccan Jews suffered from harassment by the Arab neighbours, including burning synagogues, homes, shops and factories - including his own. Jewish children were beaten in the street while walking in the streets during curfew, Jewish girls suffered abuse.
The case that shocked the family and caused them to leave Marrakesh, concerned the eldest daughter Rachel. She was ill with a rare disease: she was refused medical treatment because she was Jewish. Mordechai decided to abandon his motherland and immigrate to Israel; he was not allowed to take any money with him. He left his house, factory and comfortable life and arrived in Israel penniless. Rachel, his eldest daughter eventually became blind because she did not receive the necessary medical treatment in time.
Mordechai told his children and grandchildren who were born in Israel that his motive was “Zionist”. He never shared the story of his hardship.

Mordechai was my grandfather”.

Sivan's work is academic and only the introduction includes a personal reference. Sivan told me that what surprised her most was the discovery that her family left Morocco because of unbearable harassment.

 I knew that my grandfather was a wealthy man before I started this work but I never knew that he left as a result of pogroms in Morocco. I naively thought that he came to Israel out of Zionist motivation only. His brothers always told us about his luxury apartment in Marrakesh, compared to the great poverty in which he lived since coming to Israel. I did not know that my aunt Rachel was blinded because she did not receive medical treatment. He never complained as he very Zionist and patriotic; he never accepted charity and claimed the best thing he had ever done was going to live in Israel. Only when I started researching the topic, I found out that although they had a beautiful apartment with servants, the servants turned from friends to foes overnight. I learnt that Molotov cocktails were thrown at the apartment and that his eldest children were picked on and harassed.

Many Israelis are not aware as to the real reasons that brought their parents and grandparents to Israel; they don’t know what the Jews’ lives were really like - just as in Europe. A whole history appears to have been wiped out and erased.

This lack of knowledge creates a difficulty in articulating the need for a country for Jews, designed primarily to enable them to live for the first time without prejudice and fear of their surroundings. The aim has indeed been achieved.
Maybe it is a good idea for Israelis to check with their parents and grandparents the real reasons  that brought them to Israel.

Read article in full (Hebrew)


Sammish said...

It is no surprise at all to anyone aware of history as to why the North African Jews fleeing their homeland did not utter a word about their tribulations to their children or grandchildren. How can one explain hatred, abuse and humiliation and genocidal probability to the new generation.

The same result happened to those who survive the Nazi holocaust. They kept silent and remain mute with their childrens and grandchildren. It is extremely hard and plainful to relive the events again. Children are not psychoanalysts nor are they ready for the new information. It is even hard to them to comprehend of what their parents went through. Primo Levi once said that everybody listened but did not want to hear more. They kept silent because it was the easiest thing to do, the safest way to unburden the next generation with anguish and pain.

I supposed that parents wanted to see their children learn about the experiences of all jews who suffered calamities via schools and educational material in the hope that once day when or if the children are be ready they will began to ask questions and to which parents cannot avoid providing the answers.

How can one say or explain that a late mother who died in 2004 was raped when she was 18 in Algeria. How about those who saw they loved ones raped and killed. I do not think we should put the blame on the surviving parents. It is an individual exprenience. These experiences need to time to mature and be entangled and put in context of the suffering of all Jewish people. Then, it will be possible to both children and parents to talk openly about the sufferings and to turn the page for a new beginning.

Anonymous said...

It is imperative that life stories like this be revealed. Jews who lived in Muslim/Arab countries were
often treated like second-class citizens even thought many families had been in those lands for hundreds of years. Later they had to leave everything behind as they were forced out of the countries of which they had been good citizens. Fortunately, the State of Israel welcomed them with open arms and their presence has contributed to the fascinating human tapestry that is Israel today. Their stories must be told and preserved as part of the valuable history of the Jewish people.