Monday, March 07, 2011

1950s Moroccan Jews arrested for heading to Israel

Synagogue in Morocco

When Morocco became independent, it extended civil rights to its 265,000 Jews - all rights except one, that is - the right to leave. Jews admitting wishing to leave for Israel were detained in camps, arrested and interrogated, Jennifer Lipman discovers while rummaging in the Jewish Chronicle archives:

In 1948 the Jewish population was estimated at 265,000. But when Israel became a state, and as the fight for independence divided the populations further, conditions for Jews began declining. In June 1948 violence broke out in the cities of Oujda and Djerada and more than 40 Jews were killed. By 1956 some 25,000 Moroccan Jews had moved to Israel.

On independence, the new Moroccan rulers extended civil rights to Jews and some even attained political roles. But they also suspended immigration to Israel and began clamping down on Jewish political activity, putting Jews who wanted to leave for Israel in detention camps. Even buying Israeli stamps was banned.

By the late 1960s, in the wake of continued Arab-Jewish conflict, and specifically attacks of Moroccan Jews after the Six Day war, more and more Jews fled, not only to Israel but to France, Britain and the United States. Among them were the fashion designer and artistic director of Lanvin Alber Elbaz, and Joseph founder, the late Joseph Ettedgui.

Today, there are still at least 5,000 Jews thought to be living in Morocco, and broadly speaking the country enjoys good relations with Israel, although incidents like the Islamist suicide bombings of Jewish targets in Casablanca in 2003, during which more than 30 people were killed, act as reminders of the uncertainty of life there.

What the JC said: According to reports from Morocco the frontier police there have been instructed to turn back all Jews who try to leave the country for whatever destination. Any Jews who admit to wanting to go to Israel as to be arrested and sent to Rabat for interrogation. The population of the aliya camp south of Casablanca is said to have increased to about 3,000 this week as homeless Jewish families, who had already wound up their affairs in readiness to go to Israel, drift in, hoping against hope that the suddenly proclaimed ban on their departure will be as suddenly lifted.

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