Monday, January 26, 2015
'Return to Morocco' on Al-Jazeera
Return to Morocco.
The title of this Al-Jazeera programme says it all: Jews, who once numbered 260, 000, long to return to Morocco.
The programme interviews those who left, those who stayed, and those who returned. How come all but 2,000 joined the mass exodus, mostly to Israel? "It is said that they needed to be rescued..." said the narrator. "Many were persuaded to leave..."
Ah, those dastardly Zionists. Israel perpetrated a massive con trick on these poor Jews, tearing them away from their shared roots and millenarian coexistence with Arabs, in order to put them in tent camps.
'Return to Morocco' is typical of a raft of films coming out of Morocco in recent years - long on nostalgia and short on historical context.
This is, however, the first film to tell us that the exodus was a racket. Jews like David Elbaz (as well as many Muslims) stayed on to get rich from Jewish property, abandoned or sold off cheaply.
Sion Assidon stayed on to run the Boycott Israel movement in Morocco ('All Israelis are war criminals' he says).
Royal adviser Andre Azoulay stayed on to burnish the King's image. One can't be true to one's Judaism unless one is also 'a Palestinian', he says, showing how politically correct he is.
During her childhood Fanny Mergui used to see family after family leaving the Casablanca docks for the Promised Land until she too joined the Jewish exodus aged 16. "I was terrified," she says. (Terrified of what, exactly? Appalled at the sight of fleeing Jews? Scared of becoming the last Jew left in Casablanca? Fanny does not explain.)
Although those deceitful Israelis made sure that Fanny herself was fast-tracked to a good degree and a profession in Jerusalem ( she is a psychologist), she looked in the eyes of her Moroccan-Israeli relatives and 'saw their despair'.
A Palestinian writer exiled to Morocco helpfully explains that Israel (the pecking order was Ashkenazi, Sephardi and at the bottom, Arab) needed Moroccan Jewish-labour for construction and agriculture (he obviously had not heard of the Ashkenazi-dominated agricultural kibbutz movement). He too can't resist political point-scoring: lucky Moroccan Jews - they could return to Morocco - but he can't visit Palestine.
Given the depths of Jewish despair, you would have expected there to be more returnees. But Al-Jazeera could find only two: forceful Fanny, and pathetic Pinhas.
Fanny is a leftwing academic and pro-Palestinian activist. Her reasons for returning to Morocco - apart from nostalgia - are not clear.
Pinhas Suissa was born in Israel of Moroccan parentage but returned to his 'homeland' . It is only at the end of the film that we learn that Pinhas is divorced and his business went bankrupt in Israel. Pinhas has good financial reasons for living in Morocco.
A few years ago, a survey carried out in Israel found that Moroccan Jews were the happiest of Israelis. Funny how the interviewer of Return to Morocco never cares to ask those Israeli tourists on roots packages to Morocco if they want permanently to 'return'.
The response they might give will not be what she is looking for.