The North African Masada at Oufrane

His response to the story below, this is a post by Sammish on a tragic episode in Morocco’s history:

There was an ancient, Jewish-controlled territory in Southern Morocco where the Chleuh (Amazighen Berbers) now live in what is called the Souss Valley. This territory had as its main focal point the city of Oufrane (Oufrane of the Anti-Atlas). This particular territory (often referred to in French literature as a Kingdom) was established before the destruction of the Second Temple. Thus one can only infer that it was settled and developed after the destruction of the First Temple. But this territory grew in size and power with the Second Diaspora, with the Roman expansion in North Africa and with the arrival of the Arab Muslims from Arabia.

Life after the Muslim subjugation of the local population was never the same for the Jews. Life depended on the whimsical fancies of the Alaouite rulers (the present dynasty still ruling nowadays) and their descendants. The first Alaouite king Moulay Rashid subjugated the Jews, financing his wars in order to take over Morocco and pacify all the tribes, by taking power from the Saadiens. By 1660, he was successful, thanks to the Jews. Because of this, the Moroccan Alaouites still to this day owe much of their monarchy’s ascendancy to their Jewish population. And they know it.

The Jews literally built, financially and physically, the ancient cities of Meknes and Fez, only to be told that they needed to live apart (in the mellahs). While only a few Jewish families had risen to prominence at the royal courts, the majority of workers, artisans, shopkeepers and commercial traders (the backbone of the medieval economy) were cramming the mellahs to capacity. Still, life was secure for the Jewish subjects in spite of a mutual sense of hatred.

But things turn ugly when a ruler dies and leaves a power vacuum. Jews suffered the worst of calamities. One descendant of Rashid was his great-grandson, named Yazid. His hatred of the Jews showed no bounds. In 1790, he forced all Jews to depart from Meknes and Fez. Even Marrakesh was not spared, although few had remained. Most flocked to cities like Casablanca, Mogador, and Oufrane.

Back to the Oufrane Jewish “kingdom” of Morocco. There in 1790, 60 Jewish brave souls jumped to their deaths by fire rather than convert to Islam, under the order of some local thugs incited by Moulay Yazid to inflict suffering on their already marginalised and humiliated lives.

I went to visit this site in 1984. It was chilling. Nothing remained on this site. It was just a dusty desert place where a circle stands in testament to a brave “Masada” – suicide North African-style. In fact, people around became suspicious of me. And all I was doing was wondering and meditating about an ancient Jewish territory that was entirely Jewish in its own right and greatness, before the advance of the ‘madman religion’ from Arabia.

It is something to wonder about – if only things had not turned out that way… but life goes one and Judaism is timeless…

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