Tetouan Pogrom


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It is accepted "folklore" that Jews led a sheltered existence in Muslim lands and suffered no persecution. The "golden age" of Jewish culture under Muslim rule has been glorified and fictionalized for political reasons. The position of the Jews was in fact good in Muslim lands only relative to the horrors of European persecution of Jews. Though Jews were relatively safer in Muslim lands, there were numerous instances of Pogroms, forced conversions and other manifestations of violent Anti-Semitism and intolerance, as well as a few  blood libels. While the blood libel accusation was  a late phenomenon due to Christian influence, and in some cases the accusations were encouraged by Western consuls. The other types of persecution were experienced throughout history under Muslim rule. While it may be sterile to argue whether Muslims are inherently anti-Jewish, it is inevitable that any group living as a subject minority and not in control of its own destiny would be exposed to these persecutions. It is therefore foolish to insist that Jewish life under Muslim rule was a perpetual idyll or that return to that state is desirable. The story of  Diaspora life in Muslim lands as in Europe was always the same in the long run, and had to be the same. Jews would move to a place of relative comfort, where they were subject only to sporadic persecutions and perhaps Jewish cultural life would flourish for a time. Eventually however, the Jews were often expelled, converted or killed en masse. In the best of times they were subject to the "dhimmi laws" that prescribed humiliating conditions of dress and other restrictions. 

The fortunes of Jews in Morocco were no different than in other Muslim lands. Depending on the ruler and the circumstances, they might be rich and powerful for a time, and then suffer disastrous misfortune. Often in such cases there was a political intrigue that resulted in the downfall of a powerful Jew as the result of a political conflict. The new rulers tended to take out their fury at one Jew on entire Jewish communities.  The violence that was done was not ascribable to ordinary political disputes, since entire Jewish communities suffered because of the downfall of a particular Jewish notable.

The report below describes the 1790 pogrom in Tetouan, Morocco. Muhammad III was a relatively progressive ruler who tried to modernize Morocco. When he died in 1789, his sons competed for the throne. The victor was Yazid. Yazid was furious that Jews had supported his brother. Accordingly, when Yazid entered Tetouan, he had the richer Jews tied to the tails of horses and dragged through the streets. Riots began, Jews were stripped and killed or robbed. Yazid executed the Spanish consul, Solomon Hazzan. To avoid a similar fate, the Jews of Tangier, Asilah, and Alcazarquivir paid a huge ransom. Yazid reserved special venom for one Elijah who had advised his father and  had often disputed with Yazid in council. To protect himself, Elijah converted to Islam, but died in any case. Attacks took place in other cities as well, including Fez, Rabat and Meknes. 

Ami Isseroff

January 6, 2010

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Report of the Tetouan Pogrom

On the 17th of the previous month, as the new ruler (Mulay Yazid) entered the city of Tetouan, he commanded that all the Jews should be gathered and imprisoned in a house, meanwhile permitting the Muslims to rob all their homes and storehouses, (an order) which they (the Muslims) obeyed with their own special ferociousness. They stripped all the Jews and their wives of all the clothing that they had on their bodies with great violence, so that these wretches not only had to look on as all their belongings were stolen, but also had to bear the greatest wound to their dignity. In all this, six or eight Jews lost their lives, not counting numerous children who met a similar end in such chaos. For three whole days most of the Jews remained naked in the prison. A few fled to the graves of the Moorish saints in order to escape these misfortunes. Even there, they were hardly certain of their lives.

At this point, Maulay Yazid ordered the beheading of a Jew who had served his father, and displayed the head on the ramparts of the city. Another Jew, who for many years had been overseer of the Spanish ships in Tetouan Harbor at the order and petition of the consul -- since at that time no (European) Christian could remain there -- was hung by his feet for thirty six hours because of various allegations of the Moroccans, until finally his head was cut off and his body was burned.

[Yazid] gave complete license to more than 200 Negros (Negro slave soldiers known as abed al Bukhari] to plunder the houses of the Jews, (an order) which they obeyed precisely. But beyond this, their bestiality showed itself to such an extent that they stripped the Jewish women of their clothing, immediately had their way with them, and then threw them into the streets. Some of these unfortunates fled that same night to the tomb of a Muslim saint (for protection) others to the mosque where they met the king. As he walked past them the following day, they cried out to him, "Long live Maulay Yazid!" This apparently touched the almost impenetrable heart of the king a bit, since he immediately ordered it proclaimed by four heralds that those who in the future would do any harm to a Jew would be punished most severely.* But this order came too late, because all these families had already been really ruined.

* Since attacks against Jews continued in various Moroccan cities for two years, the veracity of this account is very dubious.

Report of Franz von Dombay to the Habsburg Chancellery (May 17, 1790), Marokko Karton 3, No 17 - Haus- Hof- und Stats-archiv, Wien.

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