Recent agreements reached between Morocco and Israel offer many opportunities and have the potential of engendering organic and warm relations between the two societies.
Both countries have long had relations, mostly secret and/or unofficial. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have already visited Morocco, where they have felt welcome and safe. Fewer Moroccans have visited Israel, though those numbers will hopefully increase in the future.
Some may fear the sidelining of Palestinians and the undermining of peace and justice for them; however, mutual visits also have the potential to do the opposite. Morocco and Israel can serve not only as fascinating travel destinations, but also as an opportunity for Israelis (Jewish and Palestinian) and Moroccans to see themselves through a different lens.
In 1983, shortly after Israeli-Egyptian peace accords had been signed, I visited Egypt as part of a Jewish-Arab/Palestinian youth group from Israel.
Aside from sightseeing, we had ample opportunity to interact with Egyptians from different walks of life and hear from them about their life-experiences and perspectives. On this trip, we experienced a reversal of power and minority-majority relations by being immersed in a Muslim, Arabic-speaking society as opposed to the Israeli reality in which we lived. Our group held daily reflection sessions on these and other issues.
Not only were we learning about Egypt, but we were learning about ourselves – individually and collectively – at the same time. Essentially, this was an ongoing dialogue process that took place simultaneously on several levels (Israeli-Egyptian, Jewish- Bedouin/Palestinian, intra-national, and internal), all while traveling through a neighboring country with which Israel had previously been at war.
This experience had a profound effect on me, and ultimately influenced my professional and academic endeavors, and my overall outlook on travel.
In the following decades I organized dozens of similar trips to Egypt, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, and Morocco, all driven by the same philosophy: that encounters between people, in which they meaningfully engage with one another (either on their own, or through facilitated interactions), are critical; that reflection – whereby people re-examine their own feelings and beliefs about reality, the other, and themselves – is key; and that all this can potentially serve to build more peaceful and just societies.
Morocco and Israel can provide these opportunities – and much more – to each other.
Both Morocco and Israel sit at the crossroads of different civilizations, constituting fascinating mosaics of cultures, religions, and identities. Each has chosen to deal with its diversity somewhat differently on an official level (see, for example, Morocco’s 2011 constitution – which mentions Amazigh, Jewish, and other contributions to Morocco’s heritage – versus Israel’s exclusionary Nation-State Law of 2018), though both countries have robust civil societies through which social issues are tackled and diversity is celebrated.
Despite their multi-culturalism, both countries face, to varying degrees, issues of minority-majority relations, indigenous rights, and marginalization of certain groups. Moroccans visiting Israel can learn about the predicaments of Palestinian citizens of the state and how they – along with many Jews – are struggling to address them. They can also reflect on marginalization in the Moroccan context, and on the groups occupying those spaces in Morocco.
Jews have lived in Morocco uninterruptedly for over 2000 years. The largest Jewish community in the Arab/Muslim world is in Morocco, and the second largest Moroccan diaspora in the world (after France) lives in Israel. Moroccan Jews, despite their commonalities, represent diverse communities and in some ways mirror Morocco’s cultural, regional, and historical diversity.
A mix of factors affected the Jews’ departure from Morocco (mainly in the 1950s-60s), and the choice of their destination. Despite their strong Moroccan identity, and 2000 years of history, the memories of Moroccan Jews in Israel depend largely on the specific circumstances of their departure, as well as on the conditions they experienced upon arrival in Israel. Likewise, second-and-third-generation Israelis of Moroccan decent are influenced by their parents’ and grandparents’ stories, and by the current social and political realities in Israel.
Israelis visiting Morocco can discover – and/or reconnect with – a long, rich heritage. Moroccans visiting Israel can learn about Israeli diversity, as well as the memories and identities of Moroccan Jews. This may highlight new perspectives on their own history and culture.
Millenia-old Jewish-Muslim relations in Morocco, while not perfect, offer many important positive precedents from which Israelis can learn. Likewise, Moroccans will discover that despite the often-grim headlines and realities, there are illuminating examples of interfaith and intercommunal relations in Israel.
Whether traveling in groups or on their own, Israelis should engage with Moroccans from different walks of life, including groups that work on Jewish-Muslim relations, the preservation of heritage, and sustainable development which enhances intercommunal relations. Moroccans should likewise engage with diverse groups of Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel, including those working to build a more equitable and just shared society through promoting equal rights, sustainable development, gender equality, interfaith relations, and more.
Traveling responsibly is a win-win endeavor, benefiting both travelers and host communities. Responsible tourism should include visits not just to the “usual suspects”, but also to more marginalized communities that otherwise do not enjoy the limelight. Travelers and hosts could engage together in projects that benefit the community.
In the very least, travelers should listen to different voices in the countries and communities they visit, and share their own stories. Rather than simply visiting sites, responsible tourism entails engaging – at eye level – with hosts and, where possible, enhancing their lives and livelihood. Ultimately, this could also mean shining light on injustices and amplifying voices that seek to rectify them.
Neither Israelis nor Moroccans travelers need to endorse or support the other country’s politics. Were this a precondition for travel, most of us would go nowhere. Travel is an opportunity to learn about the other, to dispel myths, to appreciate the complexity of others’ lives, and to take a fresh look at our own. Ideally, this is an impetus for positive change. Considering all this, Moroccans and Israelis have much to gain from visiting one another’s countries.