The 'Nakba' of Morocco's Jews...
Many of them lost everything...and life was not idyllic in muslim Morocco...
Imagine a frightened six-year-old girl trying to catch her balance in the stifling and cramped hold of a violently tossing ship. She is not alone on the turbulent sea – her parents and sibling are nearby. But fear is in the air, along with the sight and smell of terrible sickness. The child understands little about her circumstances. She is aware that she is going to a place called Israel, where three of her brothers now live. She realizes that she is saying good-bye forever to her Morocco home. But that’s all she knows about her journey.
Meanwhile her present misery, and that of her beloved family, eclipses all else. The girl’s name is Dina Gabay. The year is 1955. Dina, her parents – Avraham and Rachel – and the family are fleeing ever-increasing dangers in their town of Sefrou, near Fez.
Only in later years did Dina come to appreciate the constant pressure her parents had endured before their departure. There were small things—insults and ceaseless intimidation. For example, her father, who owned a large and successful butcher shop, was at the mercy of local thieves, who sometimes simply walked into his business and demanded that he give them whatever they wanted – at no cost. “Not once and not twice,” Dina explains, “but whenever they wanted something. These were our good Muslim neighbors, you know?”
Avraham knew better than to argue. “If you said something they didn’t like, you were in danger,” Dina recalls. “Most of the time everybody got along. But when you are in a lower place in society, you don’t dare to stand up for yourself.”
There were bigger threats too, including mysterious disappearances. First her father’s best friend vanished. Then one of Dina’s cousins, a remarkably beautiful 14-year-old girl, also disappeared, never to be seen again. In the Moroccan Jewish community, such things weren’t exactly unusual. And they happened more and more frequently after 1948, when Israel declared itself an independent state. At that moment, the centuries-long, low-grade oppression Jews experienced in their role as dhimmis under Muslim rule was ignited into ugly confrontations, humiliation and random attacks. These episodes sometimes exploded into full-blown pogroms in which hundreds were killed or wounded.
An article in Commentary magazine published in September 1954 described the difficult circumstances of Morocco’s Jews during the early years of Dina Gabay Levin’s life. “In disputes with Muslims, or on civil commercial and criminal issues among themselves, Jews are almost entirely subject to Islamic courts... even under the best of circumstances [the courts] regard Jewish litigants as unclean, inferior beings.”
While Dina’s family felt increasing pressure from the surrounding Muslim community, Morocco itself was in political upheaval over French colonialism. As has often happened in anticolonial independence movements, Jews were stigmatized as enemies of the surging nationalist factions. Again, they paid the price.
In 1954 and 1955, Morocco’s Jews were attacked by pro-nationalist forces in Casablanca, Rabat, Mazagan and Petitjean, with numerous deaths and injuries. Throughout the country property was seized, and arsonists attacked Jewish schools. In the five years following Israel’s independence, around 30,000 Jews made aliya; the numbers increased in subsequent years.
Historian Heskel M. Haddad wrote, “The major cause of the Jewish exodus from Morocco is the two pogroms that occurred in 1948 and 1953. Within a few years, several thousand Moroccan Jews immigrated to Israel. But mass immigration of Jews from Morocco occurred in 1954 when it became clear that France intended to grant Morocco full independence. Tens of thousands of Jews left Morocco, thereby betraying the typical anxiety of Jews in an independent Arab country.”
“We left all of our property,” Dina remembers, “our house and my father’s business. We couldn’t take anything with us. We left in the night and rushed to the ship. All kinds of people were fleeing. In fact some of those that went to Israel were wealthy. My uncle, for example, was very rich. He was a carpenter and had a large factory. He had also built a school for Jewish children, which he owned. When he decided to go, he left everything behind – his home, his factory and the school.”