On the day after Abu ‘Obaidah, the spokesperson for Hamas’ Al-Qassam Islamic Brigade, mentioned the death of the 19-year-old Israeli soldier, “originally from Morocco” as she had described herself in an earlier video clip, I was chatting with my sister, who happened to be in Morocco, and naturally asked her what the news outlets there were saying about Abu ‘Obaidah’s broadcast. She had just been reading the local newspaper (Al Akhbar) and told me with consternation that news about the war on Gaza was buried on page 12 of the newspaper.
There was no mention of the death of the hostage. The headline emphasized Netanyahu’s position: “Netanyahu hints at an exchange of prisoners with Hamas.” According to Abu ‘Obaidah’s video press statement on November 13, 2023, the deal that Netanyahu had scuttled (apparently after “hinting at it”) involved 200 Palestinian children and 75 women in exchange for 100 Israeli women and children.
Image: Abu ‘Obaidah, the spokesperson for Hamas’ Al-Qassam Islamic Brigade, during his video press statement on Nov 14, 2023. The running tape says: Abu ‘Obaidah: The enemy procrastinates over a truce to free the captives and to allow aid and a ceasefire. The legend on the upper left says, “And those who strive for Us, we will surely guide them to our ways.” The latter is a verse from the Quran (29:69), which ends with “And, indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.”
Since we were chatting on Facebook’s messenger, I sent my sister the relevant part of Abu ‘Obaidah’s speech that I had filmed while watching a live broadcast on Al Manara Arabic TV news channel. The clip (less than a minute long) uploaded fine but then instantly disappeared to be replaced by a notification that said, “Message unavailable.”
Despite my being almost out of my mind with anguish over Israel’s carnage in Gaza, haunted day and night by the images of fathers and mothers trying to dig out the bodies of their children with their bare hands from under the collapsed concrete of their homes, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this young woman “originally from Morocco,” a casualty of Israel’s pounding of the Gaza Strip and Netanyahu’s bad faith in negotiating an exchange.
Too bad the shy young soldier “originally from Morocco” and her family didn’t have enough time to figure out what Israel has done to them. Moroccan Jews have a long and rich history in Morocco, with the community having lived there for over 2,000 years. At its peak, the Jewish community in Morocco numbered around a quarter of a million people, making it the largest Jewish community in the Arab world. However, after the establishment of Israel in 1948, many Moroccan Jews were persuaded to leave their homes and move to Israel by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, which played a key role in deceiving thousands of Moroccan Jews by persuading them they were in danger and covertly facilitated their departure. Today, only around 2,000 Arab Jews remain in Morocco.
There are around one million Berber Jews of Moroccan origin living in Israel and around three thousand Jews remaining in Morocco. Morocco became the sixth Arab state to establish strong economic ties with Israel in 2020.
After the Moroccan government decided to normalize its relationship with Israel in order to win U.S. recognition of its sovereignty in Western Sahara, there has been a growing interest among Moroccan Jews in Israel in returning to their roots and reconnecting with their heritage. (For more information on this, watch the Al Jazeera documentary “Return to Morocco.”)
Like the hostages who are still alive, we are all waiting for a ceasefire and an exchange of prisoners to take place. During this unconscionable wait, many more will lose their lives in the ugliest ways imaginable. And needlessly so. And many, as in Morocco, may not even be aware it’s happening.
Lia Tarachansky, a filmmaker and former West Bank settler whose documentary ‘On the Side of the Road’ about Lifta, my own father’s depopulated village lying in ruins since 1948 on the side of the road west of Jerusalem, looked at “Israelis’ collective amnesia of the fateful events of 1948 when the state of Israel was born and most of the Palestinians became refugees… Tarachansky then turns the camera on herself and travels back to her settlement where that historical erasure gave birth to a new generation, blind and isolated from its surroundings. Attempting to shed a light on the country’s biggest taboo, she is met with outrage and violence.”
I know a lot about the “blind and isolated” mentality of so-called “settlers.” Al Jazeera coverage includes the official Israeli point of view and analyses of the extent to which the Israeli colonizers whose family members are imprisoned by Hamas are pressuring Netanyahu’s government to negotiate with the Palestinian resistance.
Because I see these people both literally and metaphorically, I can spare empathy for the young soldier “originally from Morocco,” as one human being to another. But most Israelis, least of all in this government, don’t see us Palestinians as such. Even when they are castigating Netanyahu for his barbaric violence, they are thinking only of themselves: They say to him: “To hear you speak in such slogans, ‘to erase, to annihilate, to flatten [Gaza].’ Who are you flattening? Human beings who you’ve abandoned is who you’re flattening.”
In other words, to erase, annihilate and flatten Palestinians, “human animals,” as Israel’s Defense Minister described Hamas, is perfectly fine with them were it not for the impossibility of making a hostage exchange under bombardment.
By their own accounts, the tiny minority of Israeli settlers who feel otherwise have had to wrench themselves with great difficulty from an entitlement to what does not belong to them that grips their hearts and souls. Only a few family members of hostages buck the pro-war consensus and ground their call for a ceasefire in opposition to occupation and war.
In Israel the military censorship system is very strictly enforced. Israelis, by and large, remain entirely “blind and isolated.” This is not because of the lack of journalists in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv; “According to recent Israeli data, 2050 foreign journalists have arrived since the beginning of the war, including 358 from the United States, 281 from Great Britain, 221 from France and 102 from Germany. Many of them are based in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, some are in the north, and a few venture out to Ashkelon, the closest they can get to the Gaza Strip. Only a very few agencies, such as al-Jazeera, have reporters actually in Gaza.”
On the other hand, despite the censorship their government imposes, most of the Moroccan population outside the Amazigh (Berber) community (who believe that Morocco’s normalization with Israel is a triumph against Arabism) disapproves of Morocco’s normalization, seeing it as a trade-off between Palestine and Western Sahara.
Note: First published on Medium
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.