VISITING JEWISH MOROCCO POST-SEPTEMBER 11

 

Until the beginning of the war in Iraq, Morocco  remained a safe and comfortable country to visit, despite the changes in the world since September 11, 2001. The U.S. State Department has issued no specific warning for travel to Morocco, but includes Morocco among the countries covered by a general travel warning.  The consular information sheet for April 3, 2003 notes: 

"The potential for violence against American interests and citizens as a result of military action in Iraq, and for transnational terrorism, remains high in Morocco and in other countries in the region. As a result of the increased potential threat to U.S. citizens and interests overseas, the United States Peace Corps suspended its volunteer operations in Morocco on April 3, 2003, and has sent all Peace Corps volunteers back to the United States for the duration of the hostilities. Private Americans who remain in Morocco are advised to take appropriate security precautions, maintain a low profile, and report any suspicious incidents or problems immediately to the U.S. Embassy."

See the State Department website for the latest consular information sheet.

 

Balancing Security with Political Openness

King Mohamed VI has been careful in balancing the need to maintain security with the equally important need to open the political system. In freeing political prisoners, allowing political exiles to return, encouraging freedom of the press, encouraging the expression of Berber culture and legalizing Islamic political parties, the King has demonstrated his vote of confidence in the Moroccan people. Moroccans are using their new freedoms to speak out against the Government, demonstrate and participate in meaningful political movements. Since September 11, many Moroccans have been vocal in their opposition to mass arrests of Muslims in the U.S., the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Israeli actions in Palestine. In April, 2002, over a million Moroccans filled the streets of Rabat to demonstrate their solidarity with the Palestinians. The march was peaceful and well-controlled by Moroccan security forces.

Despite the new emphasis on protecting human rights, the Moroccan security apparatus remains strong. In June 2002, it arrested six suspected Al Qaida agents and is cooperating closely with other nations in preventing the country from being used as a staging point for terrorism. Recognizing that Al Qaida took responsibility for the April 2002 attack on the synagogue in Jerba, Tunisia, the Government has increased security for synagogues throughout the country.

 

Relations with Israel

Relations with Israel have deteriorated since the beginning of the second Intifada in the fall of 2000. The Israeli Liaison Office in Rabat was closed. The thousands of Israeli visitors who regularly came to rediscover their roots in Morocco are now few and far between. Muslim Moroccans are increasing vocal about Israel’s repression of Palestinians. Their strong feelings about politics do not translate into their feelings about Jews, however. Many Moroccans point proudly to the fact that a small number of Jews joined the Palestinian solidarity demonstration in Rabat. Any talk about the responsibility of the Moroccan Jewish community for the situation in Israel and Palestine is quickly rebuffed, as demonstrated by this letter by Ahmed Houssine in the July 12, 2002 issue of the Moroccan magazine Tel Quel:

" … We, simple citizens, Muslims, ask ourselves this question frequently: " Does Islam incite hate, racism and violence? Do we agree that this religion, our religion of peace, love and tolerance, should be used for political ends? That is unacceptable. What have we done to the Moroccan Jews? They are attacked and accused of emigrating to Israel. Haven’t they contributed to the greatness of this country from its very beginnings? Before the arrival of Islam in North Africa, Jews and native peoples lived in harmony. Native tribes converted to Judaism. Genetic and cultural integration took place, in the absence of any religious obstacles. However, under the Almohade Empire, in the name of Islam, Jewish tribes and other Jewish peoples were forced to convert. Those who refused to convert were decapitated. One "witness" of this period, whose name is still disturbing, is the "sahat lfna," or the execution/eradication square in Marrakesh. Many Jews converted to Islam during this period, and we carry their genes. That is the most significant taboo. During the sixties, Jewish families in Casablanca and other cities were attacked and mistreated … to avenge Israel!!! And this was, among others, the reason that pushed them to leave the country for other destinations, Canada, France and of course Israel, and for some of them to be seduced by Zionism. And this is our fault. A little bit of mea culpa, please."

 

Reactions to Jewish Tourists

I travelled to Rabat, Marrakesh and southern Morocco in July 2002. Even though I was visiting Jewish sites, I was warmly received by Moroccan Muslims, who offered me the traditional hospitality shown to visitors. Moroccan Jews told me that they missed the large number of Jewish tourists that visited their communities. They also told me that while they were initially concerned about the strong political opinions being voiced by Muslims in the first few months after September 11, they still felt comfortable living as Jews in Morocco.

 

Conclusion

Morocco in 2003 is clearly not the same country it was when I initiated this website in 1998. While the war in Iraq has temporarily increased the potential for violence against Americans, I believe that overall the country remains a safe and secure place for the Jewish visitor or those interested in understanding Moroccan Jewish culture. The openness with which many Moroccans are reexamining their past makes it an even more interesting time to visit the country.

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