The Moroccan Community in Palestine
By Noura al-Tijani
Their roots were in the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, but the hills of the Old City of Jerusalem became their new home. Since the 12th century, the Moroccan community flocked to Palestine, seeking the blessings of the Holy Land and desirous to gratify their inquisitive minds and yearning souls with its spiritual and almost mystical ambiance. Their trip was a holy pilgrimage to al-Aqsa Mosque, the second most sacred site for Moslems after Mecca. Driven by a strong feeling of nationalism and religious zeal, members of the Moroccan community came to Jerusalem to defend its Arab and Islamic character, holding the banner of jihad in one hand and the impetus of the African Moroccan civilization in the other.
Harat al-Magharbeh (strictly speaking, Gate of the West, as North Africa was called by the Arabs, hence Moor Gate) is an ancient quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. It emanates the soothing scent of Jerusalem highbred ancestry mixed with the fragrance of Moroccan culture. Harat al-Magharbeh occupies the part of the Old City where al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, the Jewish Quarter, Bab il-Silsileh, and the Islamic Religious Court are located.
In 855 hegira (1475 AD), Harat al-Magharbeh was appropriated as a waqf for the Moroccans by Sultan Salah Eddin as a reward to them for their bravery in confronting the Crusades, their distinguished jihad in Nour Eddin Zaki cohorts, and their crucial role in liberating Jerusalem from the hands of the Europeans. Several religious and scientific institutions were set up in the quarter, and they contributed much to the social, scientific, and cultural development of the Moroccan community in Jerusalem.
In the midst of the quarter stands al-Afdaliyyeh School known earlier as the “Qubba” (dome). The school houses the grave of a righteous Moslem called Sheikh Eid. In the western part of the quarter lies the Moroccan Corner (Zawiyyet al-Magharbeh), which consists of two floors and contains more than twenty chambers and suites. Now the only remaining part of the Moroccan Quarter, the Corner is erroneously called Abu Madin al-Ghoth and is inhabited by Moroccan families who protect it from Zionist confiscation. The quarter is a constant target of Zionist aggression; recently, it has suffered from digging by Israeli bulldozers near Bab al-Magharbeh.
The real Abu Madin al-Ghoth Corner, however, still exists in Bab al-Magharbeh, and it used to provide Moroccans arriving in Jerusalem with food and temporary residence. The Corner was famous for offering Ramadan meals to the residents of Harat al-Magharbeh, and its most palatable dish was soup called Abu Madin.
In addition, Harat al-Magharbeh housed mosques and small corners such as al-Buraq Mosque and its corner located outside al-Haram a-Sharif; al-Afdal Mosque and its corner, Sheikh Hassan shrine; as well as other establishments such as al-Magharbeh Mosque and al-Maghribi almshouse, which were unfortunately demolished.
The advent of the Moroccans to Jerusalem has added a new tinge to the diversity of Palestinian society. However, after a considerable lapse of time, the Moroccans managed to integrate into the Palestinian community, and they no longer maintain their particular and distinguishing qualities. We can talk about a Moroccan community in Palestine in the pre-occupation period only. The contemporary Moroccan presence in Palestine consists merely of highborn Palestinian families whose roots go back to North Africa. These families are not much different from local Palestinian families.
The most well-known Palestinian families with Moroccan roots include al-Moghrabi, al-Alami, al-Tayyib, al-Maslouhi, al-Tijani, al-Fakiki, al-Mahdi, al-Filali, Bu Hamalah, al-Tazi, al-Khairi, al-Muwaqat, al-Qutob, and al-Muzaffar. These families are now scattered across Palestine after the forced evacuation of Harat al-Magharbeh as a result of the Zionist aggression and the demolition of their houses. Where their houses once stood, one can see today a large public square just across from the Wailing Wall.
In addition to their heroic defence of Jerusalem, the Moroccans built strong relationships with the various groups and sects of Palestinian society. Suffice it here to quote from Abdel Rahman al-Moghrabi’s article, “The Moroccan Sect: Reality and Ambitions”: “The Moroccans were distinguished by their honor, straightforwardness and good-neighborliness. After the battle of Hitteen and the opening of Jerusalem by Salah Eddin al-Ayyoubi, they treated non-Moslem sects with complaisance and showed compassion to Jews who dwelled in Jerusalem.”
The Moroccan community has managed to be so assimilated into the Palestinian community that it has become difficult to distinguish between a Moroccan and a Palestinian. The common religion and language as well as the duration of stay were major factors in facilitating such adaptation.
In spite of the interaction between Moroccans and Palestinian society and their smooth integration into it, they retain many of their traditions, especially those related to eating habits, clothing, and Ramadan rituals. If in the holy month of Ramadan you were invited to a Moroccan house, you would be stimulated by the appetizing aroma of al-Harira soup. The soup is known for its exquisite taste and high nutritional value. In addition, you would find on the Moroccan table a special dish called maftool or cuscusoon, made of semolina flour and wheat, and cooked on water vapour. A seasoned sauce of onion, meat, and vegetables is also served with the maftool to make a delicious dish.
The Moroccans in Jerusalem used to wear their traditional dress called al-qiftan, a hooded, long, loose flowing garment. These days, however, after hundreds of years of living among Palestinians, al-qiftan is no longer popular among the Moroccans, and their bond with traditional clothes was broken.
The Moroccans in Palestine have become an integral and inseparable part of the cultural weave of the Palestinian community. Due to their intermarriage with Palestinians, one can hardly detect any difference between them and local Palestinians. Indeed, they have melted into the Palestinian pot, like a melodious symphony playing the tune of freedom and independence for Palestine.