Since leaving his native Morocco in 1972, Hanania Alain Amar had been resisting the idea of returning. But return he finally did – in 1987.
” It took me a very long time to forget or put behind me those years spent in the Maghreb’s Lucky Empire. These years were known locally as the Leaden Years, years of fear if not terror. The police were everywhere, feared and fearsome. Fear stalked public places, cafes and restaurants. Antisemitism merrily confused with anti-Zionism suffused the newspaper columns, and in particular the Istiqlal (ultranationalist) daily L’Opinion, TV and radio – all despite calls for calm coming from the Royal Palace, preceding King Hassan’s attempts at mediation in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“What on earth did it have to do with us? Why did we have to put up with the pernicious and sinister effects of what was happening in the Middle East? Did being Jewish make us Israelis or Zionists? Without a doubt this deplorable and regrettable confusion carefully nurtured by people of all types and of all views was primarily responsible for the decline of the largest and most ancient Jewish community in this part of the world. (My emphasis -Ed)
“I therefore left without ever intending to come back. Our friends the P****s insisted that we join them for a holiday in Morocco….I knew that the clash of memory with reality was going to be hard.
(…)”Arriving at the airport in Tangier was a rough experience for me in spite of my French passport. The immigration officer was being overzealous and inquisitorial. Noting that my place of birth was Rabat he felt entitled to interrogate me: ‘where are you from originally’?
” I’m French, born in Morocco, in Rabat.”
“Where are you from originally?”
“I’m French, born in Morocco, in Rabat,” I replied in a monotone.
He must have asked me a dozen times until one of his superiors ordered him to stop playing games.
“Later I learned that the immigration officers were looking for Muslims who had broken the law by marrying Christians. But I was not at all convinced by this explanation, recalling instead the fierce judeophobic campaigns going on in Morocco when I left.(..)
“At Moulay Idris, redoubt of a harsh and extremist Islam, I was struck by the cloying attitude of the street urchins. They claimed a few dirhams and pens from us even as they smiled angelically and ‘flogged’ us insults such as, ‘Get stuffed, a curse on your mother’s religion’ and other ‘kindnesses’ which I understood with ease. It’s strange how one can have no trouble understanding insults in a good many foreign languages. I had not learned Arabic but had internalised the cadences and a few words of my native country’s everyday tongue.
“A few days later these ‘charming’ words would be employed once again by a baboush seller from the souk in Fez. I was asking him the price of a pair of traditional baboush slippers and in keeping with local custom, made him an offer. The seller, who did not know I understood his language a little, looked at me coldly and mumbled:”I would be a Jew to accept your offer.” I then seized the baboush and hurled them across the shop, telling him to keep them for himself. Fez has always been a harsh city, seen by travellers and tourists as the imperial city of most interest to the visitor. It certainly does have a long history but the bumptiousness and arrogance of its inhabitants make it insufferable. I really do not like Fez, I’ve never liked this closed city contemptuous of others just because it had a glorious past.”