The Moroccan Connection

The secret ties between Israel and Morocco
Samuel Segev
Matar Books, Tel Aviv 2008 (Hebrew)

89 New Shekels, 255 pages

Reviewed by M. Eliany ©

Segev, a Middle East specialist, with privileged access to secret institutional information, describes in his book: ‘The Moroccan Connection:
The secret ties between Israel and Morocco,’ how Morocco played an important role in Israeli-Arab relations in its attempt to bring about peace in the Middle East.

Segev attributes the special relations between Israel and Morocco to historical affinities between Moroccan Jews and their Arabs neighbours. Jews lived in North Africa since Biblical time. Although they experienced occasional hardship, they established good relations with Arab and Berber neighbours as well as with Moroccan Kings, played a significant role in promoting Moroccan interests in the world and made Israeli – Moroccan relations possible. King Hassan understood the Arab world well, stood for the principle of ‘two states for two nations’ and laboured to promote an Israeli Palestinian peace treaty, believing that without it, extremism would rise and endanger moderate regimes in Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He brought together Egypt and Israel to negotiate and sign a peace treaty. Moroccan kings fostered close relations with Israel and Moroccan and World Jewry and drew benefits from them in areas such as tourism, economic and technological cooperation, international lobbying as well as secret services and military assistance.

Segev points out that Moroccan Jewry was not subject to any significant threats and that it chose to immigrate to independent Israel due to a long standing tradition of Alyia to the Holy Land, way before the establishment of Modern Israel. Only 6% of Moroccan Jewry lived in rural outskirts, while and the rest lived in urban settings. Most Moroccan Jews belonged to the working and middle class, about 10% were considered wealthy and 5% were very wealthy. A relatively small portion of the Jewish population was subject to poverty, but those exposed to it, retained pride in modesty. Most communities were well organized, members were exposed to Hebrew and French education, were in good health and were suitable for immigration to Israel, but were subject to ‘selective’ admission. Selective immigration rules remained in place, although increasing Arab pressures for independence posed risks to Jews. Moroccan kings called upon Jews to remain in Morocco to contribute to its development, but Moroccan Jewry was divided between its desire to immigrate to Israel and the potential for integration in independent and liberal Morocco. The Jewish Congress, The American Joint as well as some Israeli parties believed in the potential for Moroccan Jewry to do well in Morocco, but Israeli authorities prepared the infrastructure for massive immigration in case of need. Regardless of World Jewry and Israeli plans, most Moroccan Jews opted for immigration to Israel, in spite of risks associated with it and absorption difficulties at destination.

Moroccan authorities did not encourage Jews to leave Morocco due to ‘Pan-Arab’ reasoning, but also because Jews made a significant contribution to the national economy and international relations. Mohamed the Fifth, Morocco’s king, expressed his opinion on Moroccan Jewry immigration in the following: ‘Jews lived in this blessed land for thousands of years. They came here before Moslems did. They thrived amongst us in peace. They hold important position in our society. They are an integral part of our people. Why would they live, now that Morocco has gained independence?… I understand they are settled in the outskirts of your country in difficult conditions. Moroccan Jews feel ‘strangers’ in your country… they are subject to suffering there while they could live in comfort here…’

As Moroccan Jewry demonstrated bravery during the Sinai War and encounters of Mossad representative with Jews in Morocco convinced Israeli authorities of their courage and devotion to Israel, an underground organization was set up to facilitate licit and illicit immigration. Many actors were devoted local Jews, who were volunteers, as very few received any material benefits. Priority was given to emigration from remote villages. Licit departures, using legal and forged documents took place by air and sea from Casablanca, Tangiers, Melilia and Ceuta. Illicit routes took place by land and sea, via Melilia and Ceuta, to Spain and Gibraltar, with the collaboration of Spain and England. Between September 1961 and July 1963, about 76,000 Jews left Morocco under the sponsorship of International Jewish organizations, using ‘group exit visas’ in what became known as ‘Operation Yacin.’ Thus, the remaining 200,000 Jews left Morocco through risky illicit routes. A detailed description of the drowning of ‘Egoz,’ one of the boats used to transport Jews out of Morocco to safer grounds in Melilia, Ceuta, Gibraltar, Marseille, en route to Israel, provides an illustration of the untold tales of bravery associated with this immigration. Unfortunately, Mossad leadership did not seek to identify parties responsible for the tragic death of 43 immigrants, an Israeli communication officer of Moroccan decent as well as several Spanish sailors, although it became evident that the boat in question was not suitable for the purpose it was used and safety measures were ignored. Segev also recounts efforts made to bring the bones of 22 of the Egoz victims for burial in Israel. Moroccan authorities indicated early on the willingness to deliver the victims’ bones to the Jewish Community in Morocco and through them to the Israeli Rabbinate. Israeli authorities, however, intended to use the burial to gain political rewards, ignoring Moroccan sensitivities, causing unnecessary delays in the bones’ transfer as well as bringing much pain to victims’ relatives.

Segev book is a good read. It contains important historical lessons, not mentioned but left to readers’ judgement. Thus, Segev does not mention the fact that even after the tragic drowning of Egoz, many Jews left Morocco on small ‘Egoz-like’ vessels, on which safety measures remained absent, (this reviewer is one of them). Further, Segev neglected to point out Israeli authorities refusal to acknowledge the Egoz tragedy or even compensate the family of the Israeli communication officer of Moroccan decent (Zarfaty) in spite of repeated efforts of Legal Aid and Knesset member Tamir. Moreover, the tale of the Moroccan Connection points to the failure of Israeli authorities to acknowledge the potential of Moroccan Jewry to make a significant contribution to Israeli society, as well as, to bringing about peace. Unfortunately, Israeli leaders failed to take King Hassan’s advice: i.e., to adopt the principle of ‘two peoples, two nations’ in a timely fashion, and thus brought upon Israel not only wars but also the radicalization of Moslem opponents, with dire consequences on future stability in the Middle East and the rest of the World.

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