The Golan-Laghzaoui Agreement

Publié le par Yigal Bin-Nun

The Golan-Laghzaoui Agreement Regarding the Vacating
of the Qadima Camp

 Yigal Bin-Nun

Because of the changes expected with the coming of in­dependence, the Israeli leadership had been concerned since autumn 1955 regarding the fate of the activities of the Jewish Agency and the functioning of the Qadima transit camp. After the independence, approximately 2,000 Jews, most of them from remote villages, had left their homes and were living in the camp awaiting departure for Israel. Living conditions were crowded and sanitary fa­cilities were limited. At an earlier point, the camp had served as housing for people awaiting emigration for only several days, during the period in which medical exami­nations and final administrative arrangements regarding registration and preparation of documentation were carried out.

The Jewish Agency emissaries had acted on the as­sumption been that when the negotiations were initiated with the new administration regarding the camp’s fate, the government would have to allow all of its residents to leave the country. They therefore thought it was important to bring in as many Jews as possible into the camp during this interim period in advance of the final arrangement, and to fill it up with more people as soon as any group of residents left. Consequently, the Jewish Agency leader­ship sent their emissaries to every population center in which there were potential candidates for emigration and secretly moved the families into the camp. By the time the authorities gave their approval for emptying out the camp, the number of its residents had gradually reached more than 7000, although it had been planned for holding only approximately 1,500 people in ordinary times.

In this situation, the leaders of Qadima could not main­tain minimal living conditions in the camp because of the extreme crowding. Many illnesses began to spread, and the camp was faced with the threat of an epidemic. Duvdevani describes the situation in the camp when the families were told that the authorities were not allowing their departure for Israel: “What happened during those hours in the beleaguered camp is hard to describe. Women wailed, children cried, old people tore their clothes and the shouts and the cries reached the heavens […] A rebellious air covered those who were assembled in the camp.” The families argued that they would not leave the spot because they no longer had any place to which they could return.

The authorities in Morocco tried, on their part, to con­vince the camp’s residents to return to their homes, but these attempts were unsuccessful and there is no record of anyone leaving the camp to return to their former place of residence. When the head of the new country’s security forces, Mohammed Laghzaoui asked those responsible for the camp to post guards at the entrance, he was refused. For some time, mounted police were posted outside the camp, but Laghzaoui was eventually deterred by the thought that it would look to outsiders as if he had locked the Jews into a concentration camp against their will, and he was forced to remove his police. The lack of police allowed the Jewish Agency emissaries to bring new fami­lies into the camp without being discovered.

At this point, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion turned to Nahum Goldmann and asked him to have the World Jewish Congress representatives lobby the king on behalf of the families waiting in the camp. The World Jewish Congress representatives got into the picture im­mediately and were able to resolve the situation. Jo Golan, Alexander Easterman of London, Gerhart Riegner of Geneva and André Jabès of Paris took part in the discus­sions with the government authorities. The Jewish Agency emissaries were not enthusiastic about the involvement of the World Jewish Congress leadership. They knew of Golan’s and Easterman’s contacts with the leaders of the nationalist movement, but they disagreed with them re­garding their estimation of the warm intentions of the leadership of the Istiqlal and regarding their practical evaluation of the promises made by that leadership. Ac­cording to Duvdevani, their declarations were calming and mixed with support for the Zionist movement as well, but these statements contributed significantly to calm public opinion among Moroccan Jewry, as well as in Israel and throughout the Jewish world. The Jewish Agency emis­saries even blamed the World Jewish Congress for causing the “Tragedy of Moroccan Jewry” that took place after independence was obtained, because their “calming” statements regarding the situation effectively quieted down public opinion about the potential danger that the Moroccan Jews were facing.

For this reason, the Jewish Agency leadership asked to attach an Israeli to the World Jewish Congress delegations in order to ensure that they were directly involved in the negotiations with the Moroccan authorities. Although the WJC’s Joe Golan was Israeli, the Jewish Agency did not trust him. Yehuda Dominitz of the Agency’s Immigration Department recommended that Akiva Levinsky be at­tached to the delegation as one who had considerable experience with clandestine emigration. Dominitz as­sumed that because of his Swiss passport, the Moroccan authorities would allow Levinsky to enter Morocco, even if they knew of his close connection to Israeli authorities.

On May 24, 1956, after consulting with Shragay and with Yaaqov Tsur (who was at the time the Israeli ambas­sador to France), Easterman arrived in Morocco. He stayed there almost continuously until September, and spent most of his time in Rabat and Casablanca. His first meeting was with Morocco’s new (and Jewish) Postmaster General Léon Benzaquen, as preparation for his meetings with the government’s leadership. Easterman informed the Jewish cabinet minister that since 1953, he had been talk­ing to the heads of the nationalist movement regarding the subject of Jewish emigration from an independent Moroccan state and that his interlocutors had always ex­pressed their understanding regarding his demands.

The Moroccan nationalist movement had even recognized as a fact that such emigration was not only a natural impulse, but also a democratic right. The nationalist leaders had further promised that the state that would be established would adopt the principle of freedom of emigration in accordance with the provisions of International Declara­tion of Civil and Political Rights. If Morocco were to deny these rights, Easterman argued, its name would be black­ened in the eyes of the Western governments and in terms of Western public opinion. It could also hurt its own po­litical and economic interests and impact on its application for membership in the United Nations. In his talks with Easterman, Benzaquen made the argument that the Jews of Morocco were an important economic factor within the country and that mass emigration would not be good for Morocco. Easterman responded by noting that the Jews who wished to leave for Israel were poor and destitute and had no economic importance for Morocco. By contrast, the middle class did not wish to leave the country and would only do so if their situation was to deteriorate.

After this conversation, Easterman sent a note to Prime Minister Bekkay, dated May 31, in which he expressed his distress that his organization was being forced to struggle against administrative decrees that limited or even pre­vented Jewish emigration. He responded to the economic arguments raised by Benzaquen and reminded Bekkay of his previous contacts with the nationalist movement, and of the World Jewish Congress’ aims regarding the struggle against limitations on emigration. Within Bekkay’s ad­ministration, the conservative elements, including the Secretary-General of the Istiqlal and Foreign Minister Balafrej, tended to oppose allowing the Jews to leave the transit camp, although the Prime Minister, Finance Min­ister Bouabid, Ben Barka and the PDI ministers tended to approve of allowing the camp’s residents to leave the country, even though they opposed Jewish emigration from Morocco in principle.

During the ten days following the sending of his letter, Easterman tried to meet with the Prime Minister, but de­spite their previous friendship, he did not succeed in scheduling a meeting. Because he had arrived at this dead end, Goldmann sent his political adviser Jo Golan to Morocco and asked him to join Easterman in Casablanca.

While a student in Paris, Jo Golan had known some of the people who later on became part of the independent coun­try’s leadership. These people included Prime Minister Bekkay, Foreign Minister Balafrej, Finance Minister Bouabid, Finance Minister Abdelqader Benjelloun and the chairman of the Advisory Council, Ben Barka. Golan and his wife Esther entered Morocco as the guests of the Istiqlal, with Israeli passports that were stamped with two of the earliest visas issued by the newly independent country – in fact, they bore the numbers 3 and 4. From the moment they entered the country, the Moroccan secu­rity forces followed Golan’s movements in Morocco and gave instructions to the security forces to allow him to enter and to leave the country despite his being an Israeli citizen.

Mohammed Laghzaoui had known Golan in the past in New York. Easterman and Golan had helped him to make contacts at the United Nations General Assembly regard­ing the issue of Moroccan independence. However, the first conversation between the three of them in Rabat was disappointing. Despite the friendly atmosphere, the two sides were forced to conduct long discussions before they came to a conclusion – one that allowed for the camps to be vacated. On the third of June, Laghzaoui clarified to his interlocutors that the government faced a dilemma with regard to Jewish emigration. According to him, Qadima was a foreign organization that served to organize Moroccan citizens on behalf of a foreign country. From his perspective, the situation was even more problematic because the Moroccan citizens with whom Qadima worked were members of a group who had in the past collaborated with the French colonial authorities, and were now working to strengthen the Israeli army in its struggle against Middle Eastern countries with which Morocco had both religious and ethnicities.

The Arab countries were pressuring Morocco and asking that they prevent the strengthening of Israel’s military forces. Moreover, Laghzaoui claimed, Morocco could not allow itself to give up its Jewish citizens who constituted a skilled foundation within the population and were an essential part of its economy - especially in light of the difficulties, which the new country was facing. Furthermore, since Morocco had given the Jews full equal rights, it was natural that it would expect them to display civic loyalty and assistance while its new society was being shaped at the conclusion of the colonial era.

Because of the difficulties that arose during the conver­sations with Laghzaoui, Easterman decided - despite some ambivalence - to turn to Interior Minister Driss Mhamdi, who was in charge of the security forces, and ask him to intervene. After making inquiries, the Minister called Laghzaoui and asked him to present his position. Laghzaoui spoke with much vehemence. He began by recalling the principle that the Moroccan government did not oppose the idea of the Jews leaving the country.

In the past, he further acknowledged, a promise had been given to the World Jewish Congress that the right to freely emi­grate would be preserved for all Moroccan citizens, re­gardless of their religion. However, he added, he strongly opposed the actions of a foreign country within the bor­ders of Morocco in carrying out propaganda activity to encourage emigration and to establish a type of state-within-a-state. The Moroccan government could not toler­ate this situation, the source of which he saw as being the foreign French government. He attacked the Qadima or­ganization sharply and announced that he would no longer agree to the presence of Israeli emissaries. He added that collective exit visas would no longer be issued, as had been the case in the past. At the same time, he took care to point out that any person interested in leaving the country could submit an application and the Ministry of the Inte­rior would deal with it on an individual basis.

After a lengthy argument, the Minister of the Interior agreed to the following two points:

a - The Qadima office and the emissaries associated with it would be allowed to continue to carry out their activities for a period of three months. During this time, the previ­ous procedures would continue to be in force and the secu­rity forces would handle visas in accordance with the Jewish Agency’s proposals.

b - At the end of this time, the Qadima office would be permanently closed and new procedures, which would be more appropriate for the needs of the new government, would be established. The intention was to transform the matter of leaving Morocco into an individual issue, and to oppose the maintenance of an Israeli emigration center within Moroccan territory.

On June 9, 1956, Goldmann, Tsur and Shragay met in order to hear Easterman, who had just landed in Paris, report regarding his conversations in Morocco. (Golan was at the time still in Morocco, continuing the talks with Laghzaoui). The WJC representative described the agree­ment he had reached with Laghzaoui and Driss Mhamdi. Those attending received the impression that although the WJC representatives had succeeded in putting off the final decree for three months, the threat that emigration would be permanently stopped remained. In the meantime, the goal was to strive for the maximum number of emigrants possible, during the period of time, which had been al­lowed, and to try to lengthen that period of time as well.

Shragay proposed that a new tactic be used for the con­tinuation of the contacts with the authorities. Instead of demanding that the interim period in which emigration would be allowed be extended beyond three months, it would be more worthwhile to fix a number - 62,000 emi­grants - who should be allowed to leave during the per­mitted period of time, and to thus “sew up” the problem of the Jews leaving the country. This number would include the 48,000 Jews who had already undergone the various examinations and had been found to be fit for emigration, and to whom would be added 14,000 Jews who had sub­mitted applications for emigration and had not yet under­gone the required examinations. In the years prior to independence, more than 1500 Jews had left Morocco each month. Goldmann and Tsur feared that the high numbers that Shragay had picked were likely to deter the Moroccan government, from granting the request, and they therefore agreed that the new tactic would be chosen in the future in accordance with the relations that would develop with the security forces. If it turned out that the Moroccan government agreed to the departure of such large numbers and was not putting up obstacles, an effort would be made to continue with an arrangement that had already been reached but to ask for the deadline to be extended. However, if the authorities appeared to actually be trying to put a stop to emigration, in an effort not to anger world public opinion, the Israeli representatives would present the problem of the numbers openly, and would put maximum pressure on the authorities.

Meanwhile, back in Morocco, Golan and Laghzaoui had concluded a week of meetings by formulated a summa­rizing document (dated June 11, 1956) regarding the sub­ject of emigration. According to this document, Israel accepted that emigration of the type that had until then been carried out in an organized fashion by its representa­tives would cease within three months. The Qadima camp would close during the month of October and by then all of the families with legal visas would be removed and their emigration would be allowed, in an orderly fashion, within three months. However, the number of Jews who would leave in this framework was not fixed. In order not to arouse the anger of the Arab countries, it was agreed that the Jews from the Qadima camp would leave only at night from sea and airports, after work hours. After the closure of the transit camp, the collective exit permits, which had been customarily issued during the French colonial era, would be cancelled and the Ministry of the Interior would issue individual passports only. Later on, the Israeli emissaries received a letter signed by Laghzaoui informing them that the visitors’ permits they held had expired on the first of July 1956 and that their visas would not be renewed.

Notwithstanding the agreement, the government quickly decided to take immediate measures to close the camp and place severe restrictions on emigration. On June 12, 1956, only one day after the agreement was signed, and three months after the country obtained independence, the authorities sent an official letter to Amos Rable, ordering him to close the Qadima offices in Casablanca, Fès and Marrakech and the transit camp near Al Jadida (Mazagan) within 8 days - by June 20. The government even pointed out that the travel permits and passports that had been issued until then were cancelled as well as the exit visas to France would no longer be honoured by the border police, who would receive instructions to hold up the departure of any Jew.

On the same day, Easterman left for Paris in order to re­ceive Tsur’s and Shragay’s approval of the agreement that had been reached. Shragay, who had informed Goldmann of the details of the agreement, understood to his regret that the agreement’s most important clause had been Israel’s consent to cease its group emigration activities within Moroccan territory at the end of three months. Effectively, the agreement’s meaning for the Israelis in­volved in emigration activities was that the emigration gates had been closed and that further difficulties were to be expected. He therefore proposed to conduct a wide­spread public relations campaign against the Moroccan government and to stir up public opinion against it in order to force it to allow Israel to take the Jews out of the coun­try. He also recommended to the president of the World Jewish Congress that he “ensure the continuation of emi­gration from any place and in every manner.”

On the first of July, Easterman and Golan were forced to return to Morocco in order to save the achievements of the agreement that had been signed the previous month. This time they met with Foreign Minister Balafrej, who sug­gested to them that they meet with one of the Istiqlal’s original leaders, Allal Al Fassi. The two were the guests in Fès of Haj Ahmed Mekouar, known as “the conscience of the Istiqlal” and lunched with Allal Al Fassi.

In the past, Al Fassi had led a struggle against Jewish emigration to Israel and was suspected of anti-Jewish sentiment because of his having lived for so long in Cairo and because of his expertise in the Islamic religion. Al Fassi, however, re­futed these charges in his talks with Easterman and Golan, and sought to demonstrate his neutrality by mentioning with approval the positive contribution Fès Jewry had made to Moroccan culture. Like his colleague Balafrej, he mentioned to his guests the pressures that were being placed on the Moroccan government by the Arab countries bordering on Israel. In the end, Al Fassi left his guests with the impression that if the subject were raised at a cabinet meeting, his party would not reject the agreement that had been signed by Laghzaoui.

At the end of the meeting with Al Fassi in Fès, Easterman and Golan returned to Rabat and met with Prime Minister Bekkay. When the Prime Minister heard of the agreement reached with Al Fassi, he promised the two that the government would soon ratify the Laghzaoui agreement. On July 7, less than a month after the agree­ment had been signed, Easterman wrote to the Prime Minister and described the various stages of the negotia­tions that had been held with the head of the security forces, regarding the eventual closing of the Qadima camp. Due to later disputes that arose in the course of the implementation of the agreement, Golan, Easterman and Riegner were forced to return to Rabat on the 9th of August, and to again meet with Laghzaoui. By that time, the head of the security forces had received a long list of those applying to leave, but had approved the departure of only 6300 of the camp’s residents.

Prime Minister Bekkay informed the World Jewish Congress representatives that an inter-ministerial com­mittee had met under his direction and had, on approved the camp’s being closed under the following conditions:

-            Every person leaving the camp would have to prove that he had not left behind any financial debts and that he did not have a criminal background.

-            Every person leaving would have to announce his wish to either retain or waive his Moroccan citizenship.

-            The emigration would be carried out without any publicity.

Even though these conditions were likely to cause delays in the process of leaving, Easterman and Riegner approved the new arrangement. After the World Jewish Congress representatives gave a guarantee for the Jews who could possibly be leaving the country without paying their debts, Laghzaoui was prepared to allow all the Jews in the camp to leave the country between the month of August and the beginning of December.

The leaders of the World Jewish Congress discovered, meanwhile, that their agreement was likely to lead to the cancellation of the planned departure of a group on emi­grants on July 12. Golan hurried to write to his friend Bouabid, the Moroccan ambassador in Paris, on the day before the group’s planned departure and asked him to quickly appeal to the government ministers before they left to accompany the king on a trip to the northern part of the country. After the government’s efforts to persuade the camp’s residents to return to their homes proved to be a failure, Baruch Duvdevani received approval for the camp to be closed and its residents to leave the country. The approval came on the 15th of September - on Yom Kippur. He was asked to give Laghzaoui’s office a list of those leaving by 4:00 in the afternoon of that day. Despite the holiness of the day, Duvdevani, who was a religiously observant Jew, did not hesitate to bring the list at the time he was asked to do so, because of the danger presented to the lives of those affected. He left for Rabat immediately with a list that had been prepared in advance.

As stated above, according to the Golan-Laghzaoui agreement, 6,300 people were supposed to leave the country. In practice, during the months of September and October of 1956, more than twice that number actually left the camp. The moment that the authorities notified the Jewish Agency’s representatives that they could take out the camp’s residents and move them to Marseilles in boats operated by the “Compagnie Paquet”, Mendel Vilner stood at the ramp of the boat and counted the number of those entering it. Instead of the 100 persons that were supposed to receive an entry permit, three or four times as many boarded the ship. The members of the Misgeret organized a day and night watch, and while it was dark outside, they would allow new families to come in through holes in the camp fence, in the place of families who had already boarded the ship for Marseilles. Thus the camp was filled with and emptied of replacements. Instead of becoming smaller after each ship’s departure, the number of the camp’s residents only grew.

The head of the security services was not unaware of what was happening. He called Golan in for a meeting and protested to him regarding the activities of the Jewish Agency workers who had doubled the number of the camp’s residents in violation of the arrangement that had been agreed to in writing back in June. In the presence of Laghzaoui, Golan called Duvdevani who explained that the situation was a result of Jews streaming to Casablanca from the surrounding small villages. According to Duvdevani, these Jews were coming into Al Jadida and the police at the camp gates were allowing new families to take the places of those who had left. Duvdevani therefore asked that these Jews also be allowed to leave along with those whose departure had been officially approved. Laghzaoui agreed to let this go by and 13 000 Jews were able to leave through group visas and sailed for Marseille, and from there to Israel.

At the end of the three months that had been set for the emptying of the transit camp, on the 27th of September 1956, Laghzaoui gave in to pressures from the pan-arabists in his party, and he sent out Circular Number 424 to all regional governors. The circular, which was issued in his name and in the name of the Minister of the Interior, stated as follows: “It is absolutely forbidden for Jewish emigrants to return to Morocco, as it is forbidden for Jewish citizens to leave their homeland and emigrate to Israel.” The authorities understood that even if the Jews were to apply for passports in order to leave the country for a short period, there was nothing to prevent them from using them later on for the purpose of immigrating into Israel. In effect, the issuance of passports to Jews had already been almost completely stopped by June 30. The few who were able to receive them at this stage were mer­chants who traveled abroad for business purposes and students who had left to study in Paris, but only a few of them had gone on to Israel. At the same time the authori­ties continued to tell the rest of the world that nothing had changed and that there were no restrictions on the Jews’ ability to leave the country. After the issuance of Circu­lar 424, Easterman felt that he had concluded his mission and he left Morocco, after having been there for five months.

David Ben-Gurion, who had meantime returned to the premiership in Israel, understood that the Moroccan king­dom was facing a dilemma - that it was caught between its desire on the one hand to obtain support from the West because of its need for capital investment and, on the other hand, its obligations to the Arab world that had helped it in its struggle for independence. He gave instructions that the subject of Jewish emigration be strictly censored in the Israeli media, in order to save the Moroccan administra­tion from embarrassment. He also asked Goldmann to continue to maintain contacts in the name of the World Jewish Congress. However, at the same time, Israel dis­tributed announcements to the world press (instigated by the head of the Mossad) regarding torture and arrests that were being carried out among the Jewish community in Morocco, and of anti-Jewish terror in the country. The shocking descriptions were intended to raise concern throughout the world regarding the fate of North African Jewry in general.

Since Israel did not believe that the government of Morocco would carry out the agreement, Foreign Minister Moshe Sharet in June of 1956 - a week before his resigna­tion - called Philip Klutznik of the World Jewish Con­gress executive and asked him to intervene with the Rabat authorities. Klutznik met with Bekkay who promised him that the agreement with Laghzaoui would be honored. On June 26, Ambassador Tsur went to the Comte de Paris, to General George Catroux and the former governor of Morocco, Gilbert Grandval and asked them to lobby the Sultan - their personal friend - on behalf of the Jews.

After a conversation with the Prime Minister, the Comte de Paris transmitted Bekkay’s response to Ambassador Tsur on September 18. In his letter, Bekkay stressed the Sultan’s essential opposition to the Jews’ abandonment of his country and accused France and Zionist propaganda of creating an atmosphere that encouraged escape: “The question before us now is not whether the Jews have the right to enjoy freedom of movement. This is a natural right, which is granted to every citizen on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Morocco, like other democratic countries, recognizes this declaration but does not waive its right to arrange emigration in the con­text of its laws and its sovereignty.”



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