Israel just celebrated its 66th independence day last week. The festivities, in which almost a quarter of the Arab Muslim and Christian populations took part, included torch lighting, aerial displays, singing and dancing in the streets and lots of barbecuing. It was fun and it reminded the whole world that Israel is a powerful country that’s here to stay in spite of what some Muslim states might think. As a Moroccan artist with both Muslim and Jewish roots, I urge the Moroccan state to stop its hypocrisy and engage in an honest discussion with civil society and political leaders on foreign relations with Israel.
Growing up in Casablanca, I was surrounded by one-sided media that showed Jews only as oppressors and enemies to peace. It wasn’t until I moved to Waltham, Massachusetts, to study International Relations at Brandeis University that I got to interact with Jews and hear their side of the story.
Brandeis was founded to redress discriminatory policies towards Jews and other minorities in the United States. Although it is not affiliated with any particular religion, Brandeis celebrates Jewish holidays regularly. My personal favorite holiday at Brandeis is Purim, where we dress up as scary or fictional characters and head to the rabbi’s house for a night of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrachi music and mainstream American hits.
Purim is a celebration of the triumph of Good over Evil and if there’s one thing that Brandeis taught me, it’s that there are many gradations of good and evil and many nuances between black and white. No story of conflict is as simple as it may seem. At Brandeis, I became friends with many Jews and quite a few Israelis and Palestinians who taught me that there isn’t necessarily a “victims” side and an “enemies or oppressors” side, as my upbringing in Morocco led me to believe.
My Israeli and Palestinian friends both refer to the land as their own. They are both attached to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and the lemon trees. They are both victims of political ideologies meant to separate rather than unite. Moreover, their sides have both produced enemies to peace. So, you cannot condemn one side and exonerate the other in this conflict.
That is what I wish Moroccan media would portray. A few days before Israel’s independence day, I interviewed Mehdi Bensaid, the recently elected president of the Commission on International Affairs at the Moroccan House of Representatives and one of the youngest deputies in the Moroccan parliament, about his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “All sides of the conflict are to blame,” he explained. “The British, the Americans, the Arabs, the Israelis… They all contributed to this conflict.”
Bensaid, who has made considerable efforts to get to know Israel and Israelis, is able to speak from personal experience. After studying Law and International Relations in France, he interned in Jerusalem for a few months where he says he learned a lot about the conflict from different perspectives. He explained to me that he was one of the first people who rushed to the Jewish Museum of Casablanca to make a documentary about Jewish Moroccan Heritage, which he shared with his Jewish colleagues at his alma mater in Toulouse. I was impressed by Bensaid’s attachment to Moroccan Jewish identity and the fact that he knew better than to over-simplify the conflict as much as his Justice and Development Party counterparts.
Although he supports civil society’s work towards establishing new connections with Moroccan Jews in Israel, Mehdi Bensaid says that the Moroccan parliament and the government cannot afford to do the same when Israel isn’t reaching out and extending a helping hand. Perhaps it’s time to pressure both the Israeli and the Moroccan governments to start exploring options for dialogue and collaboration in hopes of bridging Muslim and Jewish cultures. This is of crucial importance to Moroccan Jews in Israel who are recently demanding the right to enter Morocco with Moroccan passports instead of Israeli passports- as stated in an article by Radio Sawa. It is illogical that Morocco doesn’t have a bureau in Israel for the second largest Moroccan Diaspora when one of the most decisive factors in determining Morocco’s foreign relations with another state is the number of Moroccan immigrants there.
The political hypocrisy and media manipulation around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hinder real possibilities for rapprochement and reconciliation. Israel needs to stop showcasing all Muslims and Palestinians as terrorists just as much as the Muslim/Arabic speaking states should stop showing Israelis as the main enemy while only portraying Palestinians as victims. Enough of these two narratives that fail to take into consideration the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the cultural diversity in the Muslim world.