Fascinating article in Ynet News about a Jewish IDF soldier whose family still lives in Casablanca. The Moroccans he grew up with and the Arabs he is fighting are not the same, he says.
Suddenly the meaning of the mysterious phone calls her husband was receiving over the past few weeks became clear. The family sat around the living room for several hours, listening to IDF stories told by A., who had just come from active operational duty in southern Israel.
A.'s family lives in a third-floor apartment in central Casablanca, Morocco's largest city. Only about 2,000 Jews remain from what was once a large and proud community. A.'s neighborhood, which is near Boulevard D'anfa, one of the city's main boulevards, is marked by shaded streets and well-kept buildings. Their apartment is spacious. The light emanating from beyond the colorful crystal chandeliers highlights photos of the family and of the rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Chaim Pinto. The living room has two seating areas, one old and one Moroccan-styled. The large kitchen has stacks of carrots, potatoes, beets, zucchinis, coriander, and strawberries. The holiday cooking is in progress, and like most Jewish families, A. is using the services of a local young woman who comes in every day. The family members speak French among themselves. A.'s two younger sisters, who are 11 and 15 years old, study at the same Jewish school that A. attended.
It's a warm, happy family, with a special, fun, manner of interaction. A. himself turns out to be a charismatic, generous, clever guy, who admires the IDF. He still doesn't have complete command of Hebrew and his fellow soldiers poke fun at the mistakes he makes. In Israel, he lives with two roommates, both of whom are also lone soldiers. He also sees his girlfriend when he's on leave. His older sister, 25, moved to Israel before A. and earned a master's degree in microbiology. She married a Jewish man who moved to Israel from Martinique, so A. isn't completely alone in the country.
The move to Israel and the IDF enlistment gave A. a chance to go on a new path, after feeling a bit lost. "When I finished school, I didn't really know what to do. I helped my dad with his business a bit, but I'd go to sleep late and get up in the afternoon each day. I was bored, everything I wanted was done for me. When I wanted a glass of cola, I asked the maid. I didn’t give my parents a lot of reasons to be proud before. I wasn't an excelling student, and all I was interested in was soccer. Ever since enlisting, I feel like they're really proud of me."
We go for a walk in the 'medina', the city's ancient market, which consists of a bunch of crowded streets at the city's center, surrounded by a wall. There are lots of souvenir stalls and shops for pottery, carpets, glass and leather at ridiculous prices. Buyers are welcome, even expected, to bargain, and often a deal is forged over cups of sweet tea with lots of mint. During our walk around, A. runs into acquaintances and childhood friends, who excitedly respect the fact that he is an IDF soldier. They converse in French, and A. is not afraid to translate into Hebrew. "In any case, Moroccan Muslims know how to identify who is Jewish or not," A. explained. "One could say that our Jewishness is written on our foreheads."
Indeed, shopkeepers try to tempt us to inspect their wares with greetings of 'shalom' and 'baruch haba' (welcome in Hebrew – ed.). A.'s family say that there are almost no signs of anti-Semitism in Casablanca. The Jews enjoy the protection of King Mohammed VI, the authorities are able, at least for now, to deal with the threat of radical Islam, and Passover prayers at the synagogue were secured by police. Contact between Jews and other Moroccans is, of course, a daily occurrence.
The young Muslim at a shawarma shop is entirely familiar with Jewish dietary customs. Neighbors, family acquaintances, neighborhood business owners are happy to meet A., and it seems that everyone is aware that he has spent the last year and a half in Israel.
He himself is careful to distinguish between the Muslims with whom he grew up and with the enemy he fights as an IDF soldier. "It's not the same," he says emphatically. "I do not hate Arabs. These are people I grew up with, and most Moroccans I know do not care about the Palestinians. But my job is to defend my country against enemies who want to destroy it," he said.
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