On this day: Morocco declares independence

March 2 1956: the French-Moroccan Agreement

By Jennifer Lipman, March 2, 2011

The first of France’s Maghrebi protectorates to throw of its colonial master, Morocco did not share the radical upheaval or violence of neighbouring Algeria in its struggle for independence.

After years of negotiations, the French agreed to abolish the protectorate on March 2, and the Spanish accepted a deal by April. It was the culmination of years of struggle for freedom, but, as across the Arab world, the departure of the European rulers made life difficult for the Jewish inhabitants, who had lived there for 2,000 years. During the Holocaust, under the rule of Mohammad V, Jews were not deported from Morocco

In 1948 the Jewish population was estimated at 265,000. But when Israel became a state, and as the fight for independence divided the populations further, conditions for Jews began declining. In June 1948 violence broke out in the cities of Oujda and Djerada and more than 40 Jews were killed. By 1956 some 25,000 Moroccan Jews had moved to Israel.

On independence, the new Moroccan rulers extended civil rights to Jews and some even attained political roles. But they also suspended immigration to Israel and began clamping down on Jewish political activity, putting Jews who wanted to leave for Israel in detention camps. Even buying Israeli stamps was banned.

By the late 1960s, in the wake of continued Arab-Jewish conflict, and specifically attacks of Moroccan Jews after the Six Day war, more and more Jews fled, not only to Israel but to France, Britain and the United States. Among them were the fashion designer and artistic director of Lanvin Alber Elbaz, and Joseph founder, the late Joseph Ettedgu.

Today, there are still at least 5,000 Jews thought to be living in Morocco, and broadly speaking the country enjoys good relations with Israel, although incidents like the Islamist suicide bombings of Jewish targets in Casablanca in 2003, during which more than 30 people were killed, act as reminders of the uncertainty of life there.

What the JC said: According to reports from Morocco the frontier police there have been instructed to turn back all Jews who try to leave the country for whatever destination. Any Jews who admit to wanting to go to Israel as to be arrested and sent to Rabat for interrogation. The population of the aliya camp south of Casablanca is said to have increased to about 3,000 this week as homeless Jewish families, who had already wound up their affairs in readiness to go to Israel, drift in, hoping against hope that the suddenly proclaimed ban on their departure will be as suddenly lifted.

See more from the JC archives here.

    Last updated: 11:28am, March 2 2011