By Joshua Cohen
By Joshua Cohen
Laayoune – Streets lined with Moroccan flags. Children singing national songs. People sitting on top of cars while shouting expressions of love and admiration for their country. This is Laayoune in 2015. This is the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Green March.
When I was first invited to the 40th anniversary celebration of the Green March in Laayoune, I was excited, but also a little skeptical about my safety. After my confrontation with Aminatou Haidar in Washington, I knew I must always watch my back and be careful of who I trust. After my new dear friends, Hayat Noufouss Zidane, President of the Fédération Femmes Marocaines & Femmes du Monde, as well as Nicole Elgrissy, a Moroccan Jewish writer in Casablanca, insisted I come along, I decided I would attend the festivities.
Nicole and I travelled together, two Jews on our way to Laayoune to show our support for our Morocco and its territorial integrity. Of course our Jewish identity made our experience more unique, because this was over 50 years after the mass exodus of Jews from Morocco. Our attendance demonstrated the strong bond Moroccan Jews maintain with Morocco regardless of where they live in the world. Our Moroccan identities played a significant role in our sense of national belonging and unity alongside our Muslim countrymen.
Of course we were full of emotion, since this was our first time going to Laayoune. As the plane began flying over the Moroccan Sahara, we saw nothing outside the window but endless sand. It was early evening. Then out of nowhere, we spotted lights: a huge glow coming out of the sands. It was the city of Laayoune, shining like a pearl. From the moment we landed, we could feel the city we always heard about. We could feel its “Moroccanness”.
As we exited the plane, Nicole stopped abruptly and told me, “Joshua, grab your phone and let us make a video singing Laayoune Einiya”. Nicole and I wanted to capture the precious moment of our arrival. The strong sense of Moroccan national spirit overtook us and left us speechless. We were greeted at the airport with songs of the Green March.
We could feel the unity as we rode along the main avenues of the city. This was a pearl in the desert. Wide avenues lined with beautifully decorated homes reflected the desert city’s modern infrastructure. Nicole and I were impressed and overwhelmed with emotion. For the duration of our trip, we were amazed at the diversity and unity that was present in this pearl, this pearl we call Laayoune.
This is a special city. This is a city that reflects the meaning of being Moroccan. This is a city where unity takes on a new meaning. It takes on a meaning beyond national pride. It shows the mosaic and support of all Moroccans, from all regions, and their support for the cause of preserving Morocco’s national rights to its historical lands that were exploited and plundered by European colonial powers.
During the festivities, the number of people that recognized my face and knew my story surprised me. I found myself surrounded by many journalists taking pictures of me in traditional Sahrawi garb. Celebrities were mingling in the same space I found myself with Nicole.
When I went over to Moroccan singer Asma Lmnawar and asked for a picture, I told her that I am from America but I have some Moroccan roots. Immediately, her face lit up, and she responded that she knows who I am and that for her, I am simply a Moroccan, like anyone else. And she told me that she was proud of me and that she even saw my viral video with Aminatou Haidar. She told me to keep doing what I am doing and took out her own phone to take pictures with me. Of course I was at a loss for words and was pleasantly surprised that a famous Moroccan singer already knew who I was before I even introduced myself.
Touching words like this give me encouragement and reminded me of the importance of young people like myself getting involved in important causes. Our voices do matter as the young generation, because we are the future. Our elders must coach us and prepare us to be the next leaders of the world.
For me, Nicole Elgrissy was my main source of encouragement and inspiration. She always told me to keep going and never allow anyone to obstruct my beliefs and convictions and love for Morocco. Nicole is a role model for Moroccan Jews – she is very vocal and expressive of her patriotism and fond feelings of her Moroccan homeland and His Majesty Mohammed VI. She was a teenager when Morocco recovered its Sahara in 1975, so this trip was an extraordinary experience for her, especially as a Jewish woman that never left Morocco. Being accompanied by her on this trip has made my experience more memorable and enriching.
In addition to Nicole Elgrissy, Rabbi Jacky Kadosh, President of the Jewish community in Marrakesh, also participated in the festival with his wife. At the end of the festivities on Friday, all of us celebrated our Shabbat. Under the dark star-lit sky of the Sahara, we welcomed our Muslim compatriots to join us for a Shabbat dinner. Here we were, a table of Jews and Muslims at a Shabbat dinner table in Laayoune in the year 2015. This beautiful sight showed the unbreakable bond between Jews and Muslims in Morocco and the beauty of pluralism in our kingdom.
The spirit of Green March will always live on in the blood of the Moroccan people. The memory of His Late Majesty Hassan II will always be with us. What I saw in Laayoune this week sends a strong message to the international community that Moroccans are a proud people and we will never forget our history and rights of sovereignty in a post-colonial North Africa.
The 40th anniversary of Green March is a reminder to the enemies of Morocco that they will never succeed in damaging the spirit of the Moroccan people. They will never stop the roaring crowds of Moroccans from celebrating their love for the Moroccan Sahara. For me, my attendance as an American shows my support for the first country in the world to recognize my country’s independence from a colonial power. My attendance as someone with Moroccan Jewish origins reflects that I do not forget my roots and the soil of the land my ancestors dwelled in for centuries.
Feature Photo credit: Adnane Bennis
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