Morocco cemetery (archive)
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No danger to Jewish cemeteries in Tangiers

Following hospital's demolition, President of Tangiers Jewish community says sanctity of local Jewish cemeteries consistently respected by local government, which provides community with resources

The demolition of a Jewish hospital in Tangiers, Morocco, in early April has caused a stir among members of Moroccan Jewish communities around the world.


As reported on Shalom Life on April 20, the Toronto Moroccan Jewish community was concerned that following the destruction of the Benchimol Hospital in Tangiers, further action might be taken by the Moroccan authorities against other Jewish institutions, such as the Jewish cemeteries.


In a letter to Shalom Life Abraham Azancot, President of the Tangiers Jewish community, explained the situation in Morocco. He clarified that there are two cemeteries in the region, one on Route de Rabat and one on Rue Portugal. The Route de Rabat cemetery, said Azancot, “was never abandoned, was never polluted by snakes and was never invaded by shrubs. It has consistently been on the communal agenda and was the subject of significant renovations between 2007 and 2009.” He added that the renovations were initiated in 2007 by the local community.


In regards to the older cemetery on Rue Portugal, Azancot assured that its sanctity was not under threat at any time and that “its sanctity has consistently been respected by the local government that is actually providing the community with resources to assist in its current grooming.”


Azancot also addressed the claims made by members of the Toronto community that as president of the Tangiers community he is hardly ever in Tangiers, and explained that he has voluntarily held the position of president for over 40 years, adding that he leaves the country for two months a year to visit his relatives and that during this time period, either the vice president or secretary general assumes the presidency.


In regards to the demolition of the Benchimol Hospital, two formal communications, one dated April 22 and the other April 26, were issued by the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco. The April 22 letter explains that the hospital had ceased its activities in the early 1970s and had since become a home for the needy and the elderly. Since a home for the elderly (known as the “Asilo”) already exists nearby, the expenses due to maintenance and assistance to the residents became unbearable.


The letter continues to explain that the committee was faced with the choice of which of the institutions should be retained. The “Asilo” was chosen simply because it was newer, renovated, and furnished with the most modern equipment, while the older hospital building would have required extensive repair work. The “Asilo” was subsequently renamed to include the Benchimol name in order to perpetuate the name of the founder of the hospital.


As for the hospital, the letter explains that after several studies and inquiries between 2004 and 2006, the committee decided to request a permit to build a small office building on the site, a permit which was constantly delayed until the committee decided to explore other avenues. Finally it was decided to request authorization from the Interior Ministry to sell the property and use the money to acquire a similar building. This request was denied by the ministry and the committee was offered the opportunity to rent the property to City Hall who would then transform the property into a garden; however this proposal was rejected by the committee.


Hospital's demolition

On November 28, 2008, the committee received notice from the city that the wall surrounding the hospital building as well as the building itself would be destroyed within 8 days. The letter says that the wall was destroyed before 8 days had passed but the committee had rebuilt it, while subsequently making new plans for the building. The building was demolished during the night between April 2 and 3 of this year without the committee having received an additional notice about the demolition.


The letter goes on to explain that a meeting was held on April 22 between Mr. Serge Berdugo, Secretary General of the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco (accompanied by a delegation of committee members) and the governor of the province of Tangier. During the meeting the governor pointed that the demolition was decided in November of 2008 for reasons of sanity and confirmed by second order on March 15, 2010 (an order which was never received by the committee members).


Despite the demolition, the governor clarified to the committee members that the Jewish community was not a victim of any kind of discrimination; that the timing of the demolition during Passover was a coincidence; that demolishing occurs on Fridays to reduce mobs and traffic disturbances; that the property is still owned by the Jewish community; and that other buildings located in the vicinity of the hospital will be also soon demolished.


The governor also said that he is open to consider any solution to build on the property.


In regards to ownership of the hospital property, Azancot emphasized in his letter to Shalom Life: “To my knowledge, the Benchimol family has never claimed any right of ownership of this property.”


The April 22 letter also addresses the concerns regarding the two cemeteries. It confirms that restoration work was done on the cemetery on Route de Rabat, and adds that a website was established which includes an index of all graves and a picture of each memorial stone.


The letter explains that the same type of restoration work is planned for the Rue Portugal cemetery which, as the letter states, “is in a very bad shape” and would need to be de-weeded and its fence rebuilt, a project estimated at approximately $500,000 US.


The letter assures all concerned that the governor has “energetically assured” the committee that no urban project that might affect the area of the Rue Portugal cemetery is planned, and that he has offered his crew to assist in the regular weeding of the cemetery. The letter concludes by saying that the governor also informed the committee of his decision to classify all Jewish cultural and religious sites as national heritage sites, and thus to preserve them and ensure their sanctity.


Reprinted with permission from Shalom Life


פרסום ראשון: 06.09.10, 11:29
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