Jewish cemetery at Oujda, Morocco.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons
Before this month of June is out, it is as well to recall
on June 7 – 8, 1948
in the northeastern Moroccan towns of Oujda
and Jerada, in which
44 people were killed
and some 60 wounded. The massacres,
circumstances have never been definitively
determined, came weeks after Israel’s declaration
of statehood, and contributed to a dramatic upsurge
in the departure of Jews from Morocco,
most of them to Israel. David B Green
writes in Haaretz:
where the violence first broke out on June 7, 1948, is a large city
(today its population is about 450,000) very close to Morocco’s border
with Algeria, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) inland from the
Mediterranean. In the year beginning from May 1947, some 2,000 Moroccan
Jews fled the country for Palestine, many of them passing through Oujda
before crossing into Algeria.
days of Israeli statehood – which was declared on May 14, 1948 – the
Moroccan sultan, Mohammed V, delivered a speech in which he warned his
country’s Jews not to demonstrate “solidarity with the Zionist
aggression,” but also reminding Morocco’s Muslim majority that Jews had
always been a protected people there. Because the address contained both
a statement of support for the Jews and an implied threat against them,
the effect of it on anti-Jewish sentiment is difficult to gauge.
is clear is that on the morning of June 7, rioters descended on Oujda’s
Jewish quarter and killed four of its Jewish residents, as well as a
Frenchman, and wounded another 30. Late that night, and continuing into
the next morning, rioting also began in Jerada, a much smaller mining
town some 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the southwest of Oujda. There, 37
Jews were killed – including the town’s rabbi, Moshe Cohen, and four
family members – out of a total Jewish population of approximately 120.
to property was also extensive in both towns. As police arrived only
several hours after the violence began, they could only assess the
losses. And when the pasha of Oujda, Mohammed Hajoui, condemned the
violence and even visited the homes of all its victims, he was attacked
on June 11 in a mosque in the city.
the time, Morocco was still a French colony – independence was granted
only in March 1956 – and the French commissioner for Oujda, René Brunel,
pinned responsibility for the outbreak of violence on the Jews – for
their passage through Oujda on their way to Israel, and their supposed
sympathies with the Zionist movement. According to a report by the
French Foreign Ministry, it was “characteristic that those in this
region near to the Algerian border consider all Jews who depart as
combatants for Israel.”
its part, the French League for Human Rights and Citizenship blamed the
French authorities for their lax control in the area.
number of officials from the local mining federation were put on trial
on charges of instigating the massacres, with several of those convicted
the following February being sentenced to life imprisonment with hard
labor, and others to limited sentences.
before Oujda and Jereda there had been a stream of Jews departing
Morocco, afterward it became a flood. During the next year, 18,000 of
Morocco’s 250, 000 or so Jews left for Israel. Between 1948 and 1956,
when emigration was prohibited*, the number reached about 110, 000.
* In fact the ban was lifted in 1949 but re-imposed in 1956 – ed