Gaza Abroad: Reflections From Morocco

Rabat, Morocco 2/9/09: Last month in Morocco hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets waving Palestinian flags to show solidarity and demand action; many even brought their children to foster a deeper sense of solidarity with the more than 300 Gaza youth victims. Lahcen Haddad, a professor of Cultural Studies in Rabat, said he “had never seen anything like it in Morocco.” Although the second Intifada drew a million Moroccans to a single protest, last month’s response was a more channeled resistance to the war in Gaza. Much of this took the form of action over the net as petitions and letters circulated to charge involved Israeli officers for war crimes and to pressure action from world leaders.

Home to roughly 10% of the Arab-Muslim world, a long time host and friend to Jews the world over, and the Western most country in the Muslim world, Morocco’s internal response and subsequent mobilizations reflect a growing sense of concern in the region over the “Palestinian Question.” As new president Obama and the U.S. formulate policies aspirant of respect internationally, historically moderate Morocco’s internal response offers a case study of insight towards that goal.

Prof. Haddad, who said Moroccan support for Palestine is strongest emotionally, characterized the solidarity as both religious and national. Because Israel is a religious state with an electorate that has moved increasingly to the right since the 1990’s and become more aggressive towards the Palestinian territories in the process, it is easy to politicize religion and there are those who stand to gain from capitalizing on the high emotional energy by channeling it to support their causes. “The Islamists have used that event in order to mobilize; they reacted first, they led the parliamentary trip [to Gaza]; they have used that to gain popularity in the street and in public opinion,” Haddad noted of Morocco’s response.

Right now in Morocco, and throughout the region, Islamists are advocating something of a pan-Arab-Islamic identity as an alternative to the West’s, and most specifically the U.S.’s, “democracy” that can be seen here as imperialistic in the Middle East and surrounding regions. By looking to religion, the Islamists also hope to find a system transcendent of the self-serving regimes and corruption of many of the recent national histories in the region. Abdelhay Moudden, a political scientist at Mohammed V University in Rabat said, “the idea of Palestine is very dear to many Moroccans because they perceive it as a situation of colonization. Moroccans perceive Israel as a colonial state; a state of settlers, very much like the colonization of Morocco… the support of Palestinians is the support of a liberation movement.” He said these feelings were compounded by natural sympathy for the weak and poor. A majority Arab country, Moroccan TVs with flash coverage from Gaza last month showed Arab people crying out in the Arabic language as they held dying loved ones.

Obama’s election was widely celebrated in Morocco on the basis of hope for change and his recent steps to close Guantanamo, withdraw troops from Iraq and open up to the world community have all been received positively here. But hopes and enthusiasm would drop, predicted most Moroccans interviewed, if Bush-like policies of “unconditional” support to Israel continue. While largely condemning the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 72% of Moroccans believed their cause was “American policy in favor of Israel.” If the U.S. wishes to gain respect and credibility in the Arab-Muslim world while fighting terror, policies should reflect the rhetoric of self-determination, democracy and peace.

Because of economic dependencies on the U.S., diplomatic relations with Morocco are unlikely to change regardless of how the Obama’s administration chooses to approach the Palestinian Question. But opportunists seeking to unite the Arab-Muslim world in the face of a common enemy will be served by U.S. policies that are one-sided and threaten the self-determination of Palestine. It is in these situations of polarization that extremism emerges.

Extremism has flourished between Hamas and Israel’s far right; progressed to such an extent that the actions of one side are now being used to justify even the terrorism and human rights violations of the other. This is a sad and unreasonable dichotomy that will ultimately degrade the integrity of any country that picks a side. In 2008, nearly one third of the U.S.’s foreign aid went to Israel but economic dependencies will keep many nations in the neighboring regions from coming out against U.S. policies; this will only increase the desperation of Palestinians and those masses who feel a sense of solidarity for their situation. “It is this situation of helplessness that is for the Arabs, for the Muslims, strengthening the religious worldview,” said Moudden.

Rather than do anything to contribute to laying groundwork for globally expoundable polarization and extremism by being absolutely biased itself, why doesn’t the United States look at the Israel-Palestine conflict as a humanitarian crisis and engage other nations towards a lasting resolution?

–Rob is studying abroad in Rabat, Morocco this semester and highly recommends reading this related article:

2 thoughts on “Gaza Abroad: Reflections From Morocco

  1. Rob, thanks for the unique perspective that most Americans can’t get on a daily basis.

    I’m especially interested in the characterization of American democracy as imperialistic…that seems like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it?

    I feel like you ended your post much as I ended mine – clearly what we’re doing is not working; so what do we actually do? How can we get more concrete?

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