Rabat – “‘I’m very pro-Israel, myself, so I was on these forums, having these discussions, and then all of a sudden here’s this guy with an Arabic name talking about Zionism and how the Jews are the real inhabitants of the Land of Israel,’ Rettig said.”
The quote is from a recent article by the Times of Israel on the supposed historical and religious links between the Jews and Amazigh. The two peoples are said in the article to have shared interests or common goals in the fight for political recognition and cultural emancipation.
The report, shining a light on the poor living conditions of Mohamed, an English major at the Moulay Slimane University of Beni Mellal, presents the Amazigh in Morocco as struggling for autonomy and socio-cultural emancipation from Morocco’s Arab elite.
Martha Rettig, the woman quoted at the beginning, is presented as some kind of savior whose online advocacy to collect solidarity funds has helped Mohamed and his family get through the harsh weather of the High Atlas Mountains.
Mohamed’s family’s—and hometown’s—utter lack of resources is due, we are told, to the Moroccan government’s perceived lack of interest in marginalized and ostracized Berber villages.
Mohamed’s village and his last name are not revealed because, the Israeli paper writes, his university teachers and friends—and even perhaps his neighbors—will surely harm him if they knew that he is pro-Israel or his family and education is sustained by Israeli generosity.
“Some people here are crazy and I’m afraid for my safety. Please don’t use my pics or family name I beg you, because it’s serious here,” Mohamed told the newspaper shortly before they ran the report.
What is “serious,” the piece comments throughout, is both the unbearable lives of the village-dwelling Amazigh and the supposed Arab supremacy under which they live. They have been “Arabized” and “Islamized” and are denied access to Morocco’s most visible jobs and government positions, the kinds of promotion that bring political and economic clout.
Rettig and Mohamed met on Facebook and the Israeli woman was immediately “touched” by his life story.
But implied in the larger narrative of the story is a supposed historical affinity between Jews and Berbers. This is based on the claim that Islam and Arabs somehow constitute an existential threat to the survival of both peoples.
According to Rettig, while Jews have relatively stood the challenge (mainly after the creation of the State of Israel), the article implied, Amazigh are still living under Arab religious and socio-political hegemony. The report claims that Amazigh identify with Israel’s fight for legitimacy, which they equal to their own long standing struggle against Arab supremacy.
“There are huge natural resources, and the [Arab] leadership has all the control over it. They have not at any time invested in infrastructure for the Amazigh population,” Rettig told the Israeli newspaper. “Many Amazigh have become so Arabized through an intentional move by the Arab leadership over the last 60 years or so.”
At some point in the report, Mohamed is also presented an activist for Amazigh rights and Amazigh self-determination. The movement seeks, according to the report, an Amazigh awakening in Morocco. It wants to force its tribesmen out of the alleged identity slumber in which they have been plunged by Morocco’s state-sponsored Arabization and Islamization policies.
So pervasive and entrenched is Morocco’s Arab and Islamic identity, Rettig said, that “a large number of Amazigh don’t speak the language nor feel the need to reanimate the culture.” More still, the report commented, some Moroccans “of Amazigh heritage who no longer identify as such, can be hostile, and even violent, to people involved in the [Amazigh autonomy] movement.”
Uncertain diplomatic relations
The article comes amid rickety relations between Israel and Morocco.
While there are reports of unofficial warm relations between the two countries—mainly through economic developments—Morocco has remained a staunch advocate of the Palestinian cause in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
When President Trump announced, in the early days of his presidency, that the US was moving its embassy to Jerusalem, tens of thousands took to the streets in Rabat and Casablanca to protest against the move. Moroccan demonstrators sang songs of Palestinian liberation and expressed brotherly solidarity with the Palestinians.
The article claims that for Mohamed, however, the demonstrations smelled of hypocrisy and willful ignorance of Morocco’s own problems.
Instead of fighting for Palestinians, he suggested in comments to the Israeli newspaper, Moroccans should look much closer home to the squalor of the Amazigh people.
“We’re struggling, and meanwhile, people just go out and hoist a Palestinian flag because Trump said Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” he said. “But it’s fine. Because the [Moroccan] government does whatever it wants, and nobody ever says a word about the people living in the high Atlas Mountains.”
But Mohamed and his family are not the only beneficiaries of Rettig’s Zionism-flavored generosity. By her own admission, Rettig is an ardent defender of the Jewish state and her online activism is mainly designed to advance the cause and aspirations of the state of Israel. But her Amazigh-directed activism is not always financial.
She says that with some other Amazigh acquaintances not as needed as Mohamed, her relationship is focused on shared ideas and feelings in terms of religion, the state of Israel, and what she sees as the historical right of Israel over the vast majority of the disputed territories in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“She is the friend and confidant of an Amazigh man in the northern Moroccan city of Nador who is seeking to convert to Judaism,” the Times of Israel’s piece said of Rettig. “Rather than financial assistance, she provides moral support. But Mohamed, and a few others like him, hold a special place for her.”
In the past months, there have been talks of normalization between Israel and Morocco. But Rabat has brushed off the suggestion, repeatedly “reiterating” its “principled” and “unwavering” commitment to the “Palestinian cause.”
Most recently, the Moroccan government “firmly condemned” Israel’s Prime Minister’s annexation plans for the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, again reaffirming its uncompromising support for Palestine. In such a context, the story of Israeli humanitarian activism in the High Atlas has been widely interpreted in Moroccan publications as an Israeli-government-sponsored move to hit back at Morocco.
“Israel will stop at nothing to force the sympathy of Morocco and Moroccans,” Maghreb Intelligence wrote recently, as it reported the Times of Israel story. According to the report, Rettig’s politically motivated humanitarianism is a case in point of how “Israel exploits the suffering of rural Amazigh” to score political points.
Rettig said she will continue her humanitarianism and pro-Israel activism with other contacts in Morocco. Meanwhile, Rabat has been silent on the issue.
The Moroccan government’s silence appears to stem from a profound conviction that, given the number of recent reforms, the radical movement described by Rettig is a tiny drop in the country’s Amazigh population, and utterly unrepresentative of how most Amazigh Moroccans feel towards their country.