Born in Arfud, the city of the Abuhatzira rabbinical dynasty I am excited about the agreement – Prof. Shimon Shetreet.
The normalization of Israel-Morocco relations and the resumption of official relations with US involvement, is an important strategic step that strengthens Israel’s position in the Middle East and the world. The uniqueness of the agreement, which comes after the three previous agreements with the United Emirates Bahrain and Sudan, is that relations are renewed after 20 years. The agreement gave Morocco a great achievement, the recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara. This issue has been a source of controversy for years on the international level. The new accord provides as well for the supply of advanced weapons to Morocco.
Renewal of relations with Morocco shifts the joint activities of Morocco and Israel in the fields of tourism, culture and economy from a covert and unofficial level to overt and open official activity. The expectation is for embassies to open after the opening of the liaison offices. There is plan for opening direct flights from Tel Aviv to Casablanca, which will greatly increase tourism from Israel from about 60,000-70,000 a year today to a much bigger number.
The agreement creates a positive atmosphere towards Israel in the region and around the world, and gives a chance for the formation of additional agreements with other countries such as Saudi Arabia and Oman. This development may also help in future negotiations with the Palestinians.
Like many personalities and organizations in Israel, I have maintained close ties with Morocco since my first visit in 1991, and later on state visits during my tenure as Minister in the Israeli government. In recent years I have led delegations to international conferences in Casablanca as part of the International Project of Culture of Peace. The conferences dealt with cooperation in all areas.
In the beginning of 1999 I initiated a move to award the Nobel Peace Prize to HM King Hassan II for his contribution to the agreement with Egypt, to the agreement with Jordan and the preservation of culture of peace with the Jewish community in Morocco. Unfortunately the idea did not materialize because HM King Hassan II passed away later that year, and I took part in his funeral .
At each visit, meetings are held with personalities in economics and culture, as well as with representatives from the royal Palace, such as the King’s adviser Andrei Azoulay. On one of the visits I spoke at an annual event marking the coronation of HM King Muhammad VI. The speech was in the Arabic (literary) language which creates a special bond with the local leadership. As part of my visits to Morocco I visit the mausoleum where HM King Muhammad V and HM King Hassan II are buried. And it is interesting that according to the local custom, a Hazan or cantor recites memorial prayer for the kings of Morocco in the ceremony.
Moroccan Jewry is one of the largest communities in Israel. It numbers over 700,000 people. The Jews of Morocco are also an important bridge for the King of Morocco and the leaders of Morocco to strengthen and promote relations between Israel and Morocco. There is a historical and emotional attachment of Moroccan Jews to the country of birth of their parents.
Many of the visits of Jewish families to Morocco are a journey to their roots. They visit the homes where they were born. I was born in Morocco in Arfud, in the area of Tafilalt, the origin of the Abu Hatzira rabbinical dynasty. It is a great honor for me that the late Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhatzira (Baba Khaki) was my mohel.
On my first visit to Morocco in 1991 since I immigrated to Israel in 1949 at the age three I also visited the house that belonged to my family in Arfud. I was deeply surprised that the family who bought the house from my parents gave me a copy of the bill of sale. What is special is that the bill was written in two languages one side in Arabic and the other in Hebrew. The Hebrew side was signed by the late Baba Khaki and the Arabic side was signed by the Qadi. This is because Moroccan Jewry has preserved the Jewish heritage, the Hebrew language and the Jewish way of life for generations.
HM King Muhammad VI initiated several years ago a project to preserve Jewish cemeteries in Morocco with a special allocation of $ 40 million from the King. This is an important project that reflects the importance that the King sees in preserving the Jewish heritage.
In the past there were difficulties in the history of relations between the countries. One can mention the restriction of immigration from Morocco in the 1950’s and the story of the tragic sinking of a ship named Pisces (Egoz ). Today the atmosphere is positive and gives hope for peace between Morocco and Israel with Moroccan Jewish community serving as a solid bridge to peace building.
Shimon Shetreet was born 1946 in Arfud, Morocco. 1949 he emigrated with his family to Israel. After attending a religious public school and a yeshiva (religious training center for male Jews) and began his studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. 1968 he completed the studies with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) and in 19790 with a Master of Laws (LLA). At the University of Chicago he obtained the Doctor of Law in 1973. The following years and until today he is lecturing at the Hebrew University and held several visiting professorships at universities in America, Germany and Great Britain.1988 he made his way into national politics. From 1992 to 1996 he was appointed to several ministerial posts. From 1999 to 2003 he was Senior Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. Last year he decided to run for the presidential election in Israel in May 2021.