Copyright 2003 Agence France Presse  
Agence France Presse

 

May 19, 2003 Monday


SECTION: International News

LENGTH: 647 words

HEADLINE: Casablanca's Jews share sorrows of Muslim mourners

BYLINE: ISABELLE LIGNER

DATELINE: CASABLANCA, Morocco, May 19

BODY:
Members of Casablanca's Jewish community say they live in harmony, like "fingers on the same hand", with the Muslim majority in Morocco's economic capital, stricken by Friday's grisly suicide bombings.

And both, say locals, must share in the suffering after the attacks which targetted Jewish and foreign establishments but ended up killing mostly Muslims in five blasts that left 41 dead.

"The Jews and Muslims in Casa (Casablanca's nickname) are like fingers on the same hand -- we live together, we share the same problems, the economic crisis, corruption and now these attacks," said Abraham, who gave only his first name.

The 72-year-old, dressed in the djellaba that is traditional for Moroccans of all faiths, has seen his sons join thousands of north African Jews in their emigration to Israel. But he will live out his days in the house in which he was born, nearby the Benarrosch synagogue and not far from the site of two blasts apparently intended to kill Jews.

The targetted Jewish cultural center and cemetery lie in a humble mixed neighborhood of
Morocco's largest city, where Jews and Muslims say they know and help each other.

"We don't feel particularly targeted," said center official Joseph Levy. "They (the assailants) wanted above all to hit out at a symbol, and also perhaps at the good coexistence between our communities."

Other residents pointed out the attackers must have known that the sites would be empty when the bombs went off, since it was late Friday, on the Jewish sabbath.

They admit locals clash sometimes, especially when it comes to debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"If (Jewish residents) start defending Israel's policies... then the conversation degenerates," said Hafid Mansour, a Muslim. "But few of them do this."

Other Jews here theorized that the suicide bombers could have mistaken the "Israelite" -- or Jewish -- cultural circle with an Israeli club linked to the country, and were quick to stress their deep roots in
Morocco.

"We all have lots of family in Israel, but the situation there is tragic and those who leave
Morocco always regret it. Many of them come back for long stays," said Suzanne ben Hamou, 42.

"I decided to stay here, I have no other country," added Abraham.

Morocco's earliest Jews debatably date back to pre-Islamic times. Local Berbers may have converted during the time of Ancient Rome.

By the ninth century a strong community existed. But the expulsion of Jews from Spain in the 15th century sent a huge influx of Jews across the Mediterranean and into north Africa.

Morocco counted some 250,000 Jews in 1948, when many left for Israel or France, abandoning their neighborhoods in the old medinas to Muslims.

Casa's several thousand remaining Jews remain closely attached to the Moroccan royal house and are particularly loyal to the memory of the Sultan Mohammed V, grandfather of King Mohammed VI, who refused to give up his Jewish "sons" to the French collaborationist government in World War II.

The city still has five synagogues and three Jewish high schools, but as the population dwindles Muslims have moved in to former Jewish quarters.

In Casablanca's medina, site of the targeted Mehara cemetery, locals lashed out at the attack that killed three young Muslims. "There are hardly any Jews left in the neighborhood," shopowner Hafid Said said.

Gady Golan, the former head of Israel's Moroccan liaison bureau, said a third of the high school students there were Muslims who attended for "the high level of education."

The preservation of the culture, aged but diminishing, is essential, said ben Hamou. "A culture based on the mix of Jewish and Arab traditions cannot survive in Israel or even in France today," she said.

"
Morocco is a part of us, we are part of Morocco's past, present and future."