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De la nostalgie de la terre promise à la nostalgie de la terre d'exil chez les Israëlins originaires du Maroc

Abstract : From the nostalgia of the Promised Land to the nostalgia of
the exile land of the Moroccan Israelites

The disappearance of the Jews in Morocco, noticed after the fact, gave rise to a great deal of questioning: were the motives behind this phenomenon mystical or Zionist in nature? Or were they the result of persecution? In the Morocco of the 1980's, the mellah showed the only remnants of the civilization, the testament of a bygone existence... Both recent and distant past in the memories of those living alongside the Jews.
In pre-Protectorate Morocco, the Judeo-Arabic coexistence gave way to socio-economic organization that can ultimately be called interdependence. Economically speaking, the Jewish existence was seen as necessary for the Muslim society. It was the result of a coexistence, varying according to the era in question and the reigning symbiosis and hostility. Trades a Muslim could not or did not wish to take on were left to the Jews, from import-export trade to peddling. This division of work, perceived as both discrimination and allocation, is representative of the ambiguity of the Judeo-Arabic relation. This ambiguity disturbs the work of researchers in the field. If Jews were merely tolerated, subject to their discriminatory status, so be it, but their presence was still generally seen as necessary by the Muslim. By the same token, the Jews' political substatus in Muslim society represented a permanent strength against assimilation, and the preservation of an ancestral link with the homeland. The mellah, symbolizing exclusion, also allowed the Jewish community to be a homogenous social, political, economical and cultural group, a micro-society whose religious identity was constant and rigorous growth, through a series of rituals and practices. Tradition kept identity alive: the Jewish identity, alive in a single prayer to return to Holy Land.

The fragile Judeo-Arabic equilibrium, little-known by those who dreamt of colonizing North Africa (beginning in the 19th century), was upset by the French Protectorate of Morocco (1912-1956). With its colonialist ideology, the latter imposes a policy that widened the gap between Jews and Muslims, exacerbating their religious differences and affecting their relations.
The Protectorate Morocco had a rude awakening to a number of outside influences -the invasion of European capitalism, administrative reforms and modernism- causing rapid destruction of traditional values. The population grew poorer in their inability to maintain the furious pace of this revolution, while the Muslim intellectual youth, deprived of its traditional privileges, took up the struggle against the foreign stranglehold on its country. The spare of early nationalism driven by the Protectorate's so-called Berber politics, whose project was to distinguish between Berbers and Moroccans through possible conversion to Catholicism and the French language. The anticolonialist struggle found its way in a growing Islamic identity which attracted the masses and united Moroccan leaders behind the struggles of North Africa.

In the Jewish community, the effect of the Protectorate is more significant. The westernization process attracts an elite aspiring to rise to the European level using the French language and culture, and wishing to legitimately free itself from the demeaning dhimma status. A long way from the parent population whose fate is the same as the Muslims, privileged individuals of the Jewish community distance themselves both from the religious tradition of the Jewish identity as well as the age-old Judeo-Arabic rituals. This distinction manifests itself in education and travel, or simply moving away. The new class of Europeanized Jews abandons the use of the vernacular for French and leaves the mellah to the poor, the uneducated, and the destitute.

The tensions between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, intensified by the Balfour Declaration (1917), also feed the Muslim-Arabic identity whose followers include Muslim nationalists. This option distances the Jewish community from the political scene and thus future Moroccan perspectives. While the Muslim mass is won through this struggle, the Jewish mass continues, away from the political upheavals shaking the Arabic world, to dream of the Promised Land and nurture a sense of nostalgia. This nostalgia is fulfilled with the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, thus launching the Moroccan 'aliya.

Exile was the great memory, the mystical nostalgia, wandering and danger, uprooting and spiritual affirmation. Moroccan roots were merely of convenience despite lasting so many generations, though Moroccan Jews had buried there their forefathers, created shared ways and customs, tended to their cherished cemeteries, developed their languages... and nonetheless Morocco spiritually had only ever been a temporary home, a land of transition, a lesser evil in adversity?

Once the wandering and danger over, what of this Promised Land? Did some nourishment, for the mind and body, heart and soul, rise from this new breeding ground where the long awaited and conflicted resettlement occurred?

The components of the plural memory have come together in the great gathering: places, values and manners, feelings, social perceptions, exposing to all the divide, the diversity and marks of exile, showing the socio-theologico-political disparities. Disparities that Zionism, in its hope for Jewish unity, planned to standardize and smooth into unity. A project impossible without the cultural uprooting and the identity crisis of North Africans.
Taken to Israel beginning in 1948, Moroccan Jews met with a Western model established by the pioneers of European socialism: the Ashkenazi. Very early, the Israeli population was divided into two groups; the Ashkenazi, founders of the country they lead, and their recently immigrated coreligionists: the North Africans, who, for the first twenty years of their lives in Israel, would be members of the proletariat.
The messianic ideal motivating the Moroccan 'alya confronted the secular conception of the Israeli state. This conception involves the rejection of the Diaspora heritage and the Exile of the Jews in favour of a new "normal" nation in the image of developed Western societies. The secular State based on legitimate representation of the Jewish people, replaces religious identification with a state identification or nationalism, a status unknown to Moroccan immigrants barely removed from their secular status as traditional religious minority. To the Judaism by choice succeeds Judaism by nature and community organization becomes a complex state organization closed to new citizens. For new Moroccan immigrants, the Jewish identity should suffice for integration into the Promised Land, but once arrived, the reality of significant differences regarding religious practice, language, rituals, tradition, and economic differences caused disillusion of the sacred dream: "In Morocco, he was Jewish, Jewish through the heritage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Jewish tangled in the holy and sacred Law of Moses. (...) In Israel, he became -what a turn of events!- Arabic."

Out of this disillusion arose nostalgia, nostalgia for the first nostalgia, nostalgia for the exile that some authors (Ami Bouganim, Erez Bitton) would continue to sing: "She sings the exile, a nostalgic tone in the voice, the exile from Jerusalem, the exile from Spain, the exile from Morocco. (...) She sings a Spanish serenade then a French song, an Arabic threnody then a hymn in Hebrew. (...) Without end, Zohra's songs recreate the fabulous scenery of her past."

Recreate the scenery of one's past to struggle against the oblivion of the deads and the depersonalization of the livings. Recalling an identity lost in a process of assimilation imposing the oblivion of the Jewish Diaspora and the rebirth of Modern Hebrew. Memory finds its place once again: recreating an identity and a culture parallel to the national Israeli identity and culture. And this reconstitution is first reactivated through maternal memory, a domestic memory constituting ancestral rituals, smell of cooking, laughters, household tasks, games, festive music, superstitions and rumours, jokes in local dialect... folkloric memories. Because the mother is the character who embodies tradition, who has been the least touched by the maelstrom of the 'alya.

It is in the literary expression of Moroccan Israelites that we see this nostalgia, through characters who do not feel they are part of a coherent Israeli entity. The language, the culture and the mentality exacerbate these differences, and allow their particularism take its course.

Even though it is an historical fact, the creation of the Israeli society underwent the rules of immigration. More than elsewhere, the Israeli terrain is best suited for a review of immigration issues: integration, acculturation, ethnic mix, as a hypothesis of the future of societies in the growing globalization of our world.
Document type :
Complete list of metadatas
Contributor : Charles-Antoine Arnaud <>
Submitted on : Monday, December 8, 2008 - 1:51:04 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, May 5, 2020 - 11:50:19 AM
Long-term archiving on: : Thursday, October 11, 2012 - 12:55:10 PM


  • HAL Id : tel-00345109, version 1


Latifa Elouagagui Elidrissi. De la nostalgie de la terre promise à la nostalgie de la terre d'exil chez les Israëlins originaires du Maroc. Sciences de l'Homme et Société. Université Paris VIII Vincennes-Saint Denis, 1999. Français. ⟨tel-00345109⟩



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