“I strongly believe we can’t just delete thousands of years of history,” said filmmaker Kamal Hachkar.
Hachkar, a French citizen of Muslim Moroccan descent, has made a documentary film about a time when Jews and Berber Arabs in Morocco mingled and coexisted in apparent harmony.
Already screened in Morocco, Israel, the United States and several European countries, Tinghir-Jerusalem: Echoes from the Mellah is scheduled to be shown at Congregation Darchei Noam on May 5 at 7:30 p.m.
The one-and-a-half-hour film focuses on Jews who lived in the Atlas Mountains before their departure to Israel decades ago and their lives in Israel today.
Hachkar, whose Berber family hails from the town of Tinghir, will talk about his film via Skype.
“I wanted to make this movie to tell the story of the Jews who once lived in Tinghir,” he said in an interview with The CJN. “It’s a story that has never been told before. It fills a gap between the past and the present. Unfortunately, this part of history is not taught in schools in Morocco.”
In 1940, one-third of Tinghir’s population was Jewish, said Hachkar, who left the town with his father at the age of six months and has lived in France ever since.
“Today, there is not a single Jew living in Tinghir,” he added. “The only memory we have of them are empty houses and tombstones in the Jewish cemetery.”
In his film, Hachkar visits his hometown as well as Israel to discuss Tinghir’s former Jewish community.
His grandparents knew Jews in Tinghir and told him about these relationships, he recalled.
Judging by his film, the Berbers in Tinghir have fond memories of the Jews, the last of whom left in 1964.
One elderly woman, however, points out that Jews and Muslims did not associate socially. “Everyone knew their place,” she observes.
In Israel, Hachkar visits Kibbutz Neve Ur, Safed, Or Akiva and Haifa, where he meets Jews from Tinghir. They speak in a mixture of Arabic and Hebrew as they reminisce about the old days.
He wants to know why Jews left Morocco. Some say their immigration was religiously ordained. Still others think that the Arab-Israeli conflict drove them out of Morocco.
“A danger existed,” a Jewish teacher said. Someone else remarks, “Jews were overtaken by history.”
When Hachkar’s film was screened at the Tangier Film Festival this past winter, Islamist and left-wing groups protested, claiming that he was promoting “normalization” with Israel.
Hachkar, however, was not expelled from the artists’ union, nor was his film banned, as might have been the case in a country like Egypt or Jordan.
“Most of the people who have criticized my film haven’t even seen it,” he said. “People who saw the movie loved it and were moved by it. My film is actually an act of love to Morocco.”
Hachkar, who has visited Israel 11 times since 2007, believes that Morocco’s younger generation is interested in the Jewish dimension of its history.
Prior to the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, Morocco was home to some 300,000 Jews, constituting the largest Jewish community in the Arab world.
But as tension between Israel and the Arab states worsened, more and more Jews left Morocco in fear of their safety.
Nonetheless, many Jews of Moroccan origin in Israel have refrained from cutting their ties with Morocco, he said.
Tinghir-Jerusalem, he disclosed, is due to be shown at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on May 23 and then at Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva before it is screened in Los Angeles in June.
Morocco could definitely play a role in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, as it did in the late 1970s, he said.
“My dream is to see a Palestinian state alongside Israel,” he said, voicing support for a two-state solution.
Hachkar is currently working on a film about Moroccan Israelis who’ve visited their native cities in Morocco.Edmonton’s Jewish history comes back to life