Literature Remembers Moroccan Jews

By Brahim El Guabli
Submitted to Session P4846 (Representations of Jews in Contemporary Arabic Literature, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Moroccan Jews' life and memories among Muslins have been absented from official history and "tabooed" in social memory for a long time. As a result of the Arab-Israeli struggle and the internal political strife in Morocco throughout the post-independence period (1956-1999), a multilevel silence was imposed on the memory of the departed Jews. Generations of Moroccans grew up ignoring the fact that that until fairly recently (1967) their cities and villages were teeming with a vibrant Jewish population whose lives were entirely entangled with the Muslims' (Rosen). Moreover, the Hebraic dimention of Morocco was simply "forgotten" until recent ethnographic scholarship (Boum, Semi and Hatimi) rehabilitated part of this memory and recorded fragments of these occulted histories. Despite being a site in which the complexity of Muslim-Jewish mnemonic "entanglements" (Rosen), literature, written both in Arabic and French by Muslim authors, is entirely overlooked by scholarship. Based on a reading of four novels authored by Moroccan Muslims (Ait Moh, al-Hajri, Miliani and Chaoui), I argue that these novelistic works use memory to recreate a world inhabited by both Jews and Muslims in order to account for Moroccan society's loss of its Jews. In recreating the ersthwhile Jewish neighborhoods, city-scapes and toponyms, literature makes a case for a new citizenship, emerging from a new reading of Moroccan history and memory. Because of their provocative nature, these crafted works interpellate both their readers and the state to clarify their position vis-a-vis a human hemorrhage—some 250.000 Jews emigrated from Morocco—that cost Moroccan society dearly. Finally, the positive portrayal Jewish-Muslims relations and the literary representation of the multiple degrees of intimacy between Muslims and Jews as well as the depiction of the permanent negotiations involved in Jewish-Muslim unity within difference (Hammoudi) both humanize and complicate Jewish-Muslim existence in Morocco. Literarture has, as a result, become a locus in which historiographical forgetfulness is actively contested and a space in which a bygone world is reactualized through the force of memory.