They Were Promised the Sea


“For me, the problem is that the conflict between Arab and Jewish is not out there in the country, it’s inside my soul, inside my identity. I have this Arab part and this Jewish part and I wouldn’t like them to be in conflict.” – Shira Ohayon

In February, I received an email from one of my Theatre professors about an extra credit opportunity that involved going to a showing of an Independent film and staying for the Q&A with the director that would follow it.  What I thought was going to be a chance to receive some points for a grade turned out to be an inspiring and intriguing night.

The film is in the style of a documentary, allowing voices of intellectuals and village custodians alike to share their stories in a safe and open dialog. The stories told are that of the Jewish population in the Arab world or what remains of them. The documentary focuses on the ties between Morocco and the population of its past, one filled with a Jewish population living alongside an Arab population. The people who are interviewed range from Arabs in Morocco, Jewish people who used to live in Morocco, and the second generation immigrants of the Jewish families that left Morocco for a better life that was promised to them in Israel.

The disconnect between the Jewish side and Arab side of their lives spoke to me – many were at conflict within themselves, feeling as though they did not belong anywhere. As a second generation immigrant with a mother and father from vastly different areas of the world, I immediately recognized and related to their feelings of a lack of a true home. Shira Ohayon stated that in Israel, she was seen as an Arab, and in Morocco, she was seen as an Israeli. As a person who comes from two ethnicities, I understood and identified with her experiences.

Before this night, I had never heard of this perspective. The stories from both Arab and Jewish people painted a picture of a city where they lived as neighbors and friends. One man who was interviewed said that the first bus which was sent to bring the Jewish population to Israel had rocks thrown at it, because no one wanted it there as no one wanted to leave. The next day, two busses were sent to the neighborhood and a few families conceded to go on them. He went on to speak of the Arab and remaining Jewish families crying for their life-long friends to stay in their homes, and when it was certain that they could not convince them, bread, honey and sugar were gifted to them for the journey to a new, far land. I learned so much of this situation, of the friends and families torn apart.

After the film was over, a question and answer session was held with the director. It was interesting to see the mix of students and members of the community either agree or disagree with the documentary’s message. I sat at the back so I was able to observe those who were either nodding or shaking their head. At one point, a man in the audience spoke up and said that the director was inaccurately portraying Morocco as a safe-haven for people. Before she could provide a retort, another man in the audience raised his hand and said that he was Jewish and from Morocco (just as the director was) and said that Morocco was not a perfect place, but it was a sustainable place. It had problems just like any other area, but the point was that people could live alongside in each other and not be fearful of one another as a result of religious differences. The back and forth between these two audiences touched me as a Muslim women. Although I am Indonesian and have no heritage in the Middle East, it was lovely to hear of the peace that once existed between these two people, because if it happened once, then there is the chance it could happen again.

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