In Tinghir-Jerusalem: Echoes from the Mellah, Moroccan-French filmmaker Kamal Hachkar chronicles a largely unexplored font of cultural memory, through conversations with the Jewish and Muslim men and women of Tinghir, a small town in the southeast of Morocco. He talks with them both in Tinghir itself and in Israel.
Hachkar himself is of Muslim Berber origin and opens the film by saying: “The only thing I was sure of is that I came from elsewhere.” For him, making this film was as much about self-discovery as anything else.
He discovered that there was once a vibrant Jewish community living alongside the Muslim Berbers in Tinghir.
Hachkar’s initial mission was to travel from France to Morocco, to tell the story of his hometown of Tinghir. Early on in his research, he discovered that there was once a vibrant Jewish community living alongside the Muslim Berbers in Tinghir. This community was depleted by a mass exodus to Israel after the state was formed in 1948. Upon discovering this, Hachkar decided to go on a journey from Tinghir to Israel, following the path of those who had left over the decade that followed 1948.
They left little behind in Tinghir. Even the synagogue was sold off for building materials, according to a local barber. Others tell tales of the clothing and the food of the local Jews, such as “Choto Bread,” while some recall how Muslims would be invited to celebrate Passover with their Jewish friends.
In a time of deepening divisions in the Middle-East, Tinghir Jerusalem tells a different story—one born in a sincere desire for peaceful coexistence between a group of people who share a collective, living memory of Tinghir. A singer whom Hachkar interviews in Israel is typical of this—he still sings of the Atlas Mountains and of the Todra Gorge, many years after having left Morocco. By piecing together in this stunning documentary, the stories of those he meets, Hachkar uncovers hidden memories, held by people living in two different countries, with two different religions. The film’s message is therefore one of peace and cross-cultural solidarity.
“My movie is about the possibility for Jews and Muslims to coexist together,” Hachkar told Inside Arabia. “This narrative is still a taboo and I wanted to tell the stories of Jews and Berbers to depict them in a dignified way. I think it’s an example for today, especially now with the resurgence of nationalism and xenophobia: Trump in America, Marine Le Pen [in France], Islamists in Morocco, and so on. All of these people are the same: they don’t like plurality and coexistence.”
In the film, shortly after his arrival in Israel, Hachkar approaches a house to ask for the address of someone he wants to interview. The elderly woman who answers the door seems apprehensive at first, but when Hachkar says he recognizes her Moroccan accent and that he himself is a Moroccan Muslim, her demeanor instantly changes. She blows him a kiss and begins to wax lyrical about the possibility for peaceful coexistence between Jews and Muslims.
“We, we love peace. We love peace between us [Muslims and Jews]… Why fight all our lives over this land? It’s a sin! For a land! We have to live together, in peace, together, Jews and Muslims.”
“We, we love peace. We love peace between us [Muslims and Jews],” she exclaims. “Why fight all our lives over this land? It’s a sin! For a land! We have to live together, in peace, together, Jews and Muslims.”
Throughout the film, whether Hachkar talks to Muslim Berbers in Tinghir itself, or the Jewish diaspora in Israel who once lived in Tinghir, all recall with warmth the way things used to be in Morocco. There is a beautiful scene where an old Muslim man and an old Jewish man each come of their front doors on opposite sides of the street, greet each other cordially, and continue down the road together. A man and woman who Hachkar speaks to lament the failure of Muslims and Jews to live together peacefully today, as they once did in their childhoods.
Given the picture of peaceful coexistence written into the memory of the Jews of Tinghir, one might wonder why they decided to leave in the first place. Hachkar asks the modern residents of Tinghir why the Jews left, but receives few answers other than that the community was saddened, even hurt, to see their Jewish friends depart for Israel.
Hachkar’s own explanation is that the policies of the French protectorate in Morocco, the founding of the state of Israel, and the alignment of Morocco with the Arab league, combined to leave Moroccan Jews feeling isolated in the country. Israel provided a solution.
One Zionist professor Hachkar encounters in Israel says that Jews in Morocco could no longer identify with the country when several prominent Moroccan political leaders sided with Palestine during the early conflicts, which he refers to as “wars of independence.” The Moroccan state was also reluctant to accept the very existence of Israel.
Zionist thinkers actively worked to resettle Moroccan Jews to Israel, with tales of a future Utopian-Israeli society.
Furthermore, Zionist thinkers actively worked to resettle Moroccan Jews to Israel, with tales of a future Utopian-Israeli society. Many Moroccan Jews interviewed in the film talk of how this vision did not come true. Due to the fact that North African Jews were greatly outnumbered by the number of Ashkenazi Jews who migrated from Europe, some even talk of how life in Israel represents for them yet another exile, as opposed to the long-promised homecoming.
Hachkar concedes that there is little hope of the repatriation of such people to Morocco, lamenting the loss of the Judeo-Arab coexistence that once existed, but is unlikely again.
One woman tells him emotionally of how she was sent away from the job center when she told them she was Moroccan but invited in warmly at a separate job center after claiming to be Polish. Yet Hachkar concedes that there is little hope of the repatriation of such people to Morocco, lamenting the loss of the Judeo-Arab coexistence that once existed, but is unlikely again.
At the conclusion of the film, Hachkar Skypes with his father while sitting with some of his father’s childhood friends, now living in Israel. All present inquire enthusiastically after members of the Tinghir community they remember from six decades earlier. Many, of course, are deceased, yet it is striking how many of them remember the full names of their classmates from that time. It is clear that Tinghir lives on in their collective memory, regardless of the time and space that separate them from it. An essential part of their identity comes from having shared their lives with those who appear to be different. As Kamal Hachkar himself concludes: “It is only through the other that one can truly know oneself.”
“It is only through the other that one can truly know oneself.”
Tinghir Jerusalem demonstrates how collective memory and shared experience can act as a bridge between different peoples from different ethnic and ideological backgrounds. It performs one of the crucial functions of art—it opens the mind of the viewer to what is possible.