- Title: JERUSALEM: Moroccan community survives in Old City
- Date: 25th October 2007
- Summary: VARIOUS OF CONSTRUCTION NEAR THE MUGHRABI GATE WHICH LEADS TO THE MOROCCAN QUARTER
- Embargoed: 9th November 2007 12:00
- Topics: Lifestyle
- Reuters ID: LVA2FQED6QT0884NW77FUN1PZ7CC
- Story Text: An ancient community which traces its roots to the Mediterranean shores of North Africa survives in the alleyways of the Old City of Jerusalem, despite suffering a number of setbacks in recent decades and living in a neighbourhood reduced to a fraction of its original size.
Ancestors of residents of the Moroccan Quarter in the Old City came to Jerusalem to fight with the 12th-century Muslim Caliph Salaheddin al-Ayyoubi, widely known as Saladin, to recapture Palestine from the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
"After the liberation of Jerusalem, some of them went back to their country, while some settled in the Moroccan Quarter," said the Moroccan community's representative Mohammed Abdel Haq.
Salaheddin is revered in Arab history as the liberator of Jerusalem from European armies in 1187.
Residents of the Moroccan Quarter held on to Moroccan food and clothing culture throughout the decades, assimilating into Palestinian society most noticeably during the 19th century. Over the years, scientific, educational and religious institutions were founded in the neighbourhood and it became home to Muslim religious clerics who served at the nearby Haram al-Sharif, a compound that houses the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque.
But the fate of residents of the Moroccan Quarter has taken turns for the worse in recent decades.
The Moroccan Quarter adjoins the Old City's Jewish quarter. Three days after Israel seized the Old City from Jordan in the Six Day War in 1967, the residents of the Moroccan Quarter were given a few hours' notice to vacate their homes. The Israeli army demolished the neighbourhood, and all that remains of the Quarter today is a corner known as the Abu Madian al-Ghoth area, inhabited by 30 Moroccan families.
The land on which the Old Quarter existed, and which was owned by the Moroccan Waqf religious endowment, was confiscated by Israel.
The Western Wall Plaza, an extended area Israel has constructed over the past decades which houses Judaism's most important religious site, now covers the area which was once inhabited by the city's Moroccan residents.
Many in the diminished quarter hold on to old photographs of their neighbourhood as it was before 1967.
"We suffer in every catastrophe. In 1948, we lost Ein Karem and in 1967 we lost the Moroccan neighbourhood. They (Israeli authorities) did not stop at this, when they decided to build up the Jewish Quarter in the old city, they confiscated dozens of houses and pieces of land from the Moroccan community in the Jewish quarter, Bab al-Silsileh and Husr Market," said Abdel Haq.
A number of Moroccan families had been living in the town of Ein Karem to the southwest of Jerusalem -- now known as the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ein Kerem -- but fled and lost their property along with the rest of its Palestinian inhabitants just before and after the town was attacked and captured by Israeli forces during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
Most recently, Israel began archaeological digging early this year outside the Mughrabi Gate, which leads to the Moroccan Quarter as well as the Haram al-Sharif.
Arab leaders and Muslim clerics charge the excavations could damage the foundations of the holy sites, an allegation Israeli officials said was politically motivated.
The Moroccan community in the Old City is now 10,000-strong. A further 40,000 Moroccans live outside the Quarter, in the West Bank, Israel and other parts of Jerusalem.
Inside the Old City, a group of Moroccan women decided to found a society to revive Jerusalem's Moroccan community by strengthening inter-social ties and Moroccan identity in the Quarter.
"We established this society in August 2005 so we could get together, visit each other and gather for group events," said Fatmeh Mughrabi, head of the Moroccan Women's Society in Jerusalem, which organises cultural and children's events and communal meals featuring traditional Moroccan dishes.
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