The Divergence of Judaism and Islam. Interdependence, Modernity, and Political Turmoil

(Joyce) #1

150 · Daniel J. Schroeter

Jews’ niche in the rural economy meant that often they were the only
local population with liquid capital at their disposal and thus capable of
purchasing land. Yet other factors may have impeded their access to ru-
ral lands in the colonial period. Some Jews complained that pacification
actually led to the decrease in Jewish landownership, since formerly Jews
would loan money needed by Muslims whose resources were constantly
depleted by fighting. One military officer wrote in 1951: “The Jews are
convinced that in the past, well before the pacification, they were rich.
They owned land and lent money to Muslims that was wiped out in
wars. With the calm, the Jews lost everything.”^29
Another factor that may have worked to the disadvantage of Jewish
landowners was the measures adopted by the colonial system to establish
a more documented system of land tenure. In rural areas, many Jewish
landholdings may have been acquired through oral agreements, rather
than written title, which were passed down through generations. Fur-
thermore, Muslim notaries would be reluctant to formalize land transfers
to Jews. Alfred Goldenberg, one of the leading educators for the Alliance
Israélite Universelle in Morocco after World War II, wrote about the mel-
lah of Tissent in Ait Bou Oulli that “no Jew has land belonging to him
because the notaries ( ̔udul) do not want to register deeds that would
make the Jews landowners.”^30
Even more significant was legislation enforced during World War II.
The French authorities developed, through banks in Marrakesh and Aga-
dir, a system of credit, which enabled many Berber debtors to free their
lands from their Jewish creditors. Furthermore, there were several ad-
ministrative measures from 1941–42, the period when the Vichy regime
began to implement discriminatory laws against the Jews’ economic and
professional activities, to the detriment of Jewish ownership of land.
A decree (dahir) was issued that annulled the mortgages (rahn) held as
security, allowing the owners to reclaim their lands. While there were
Jews who got around their loans by disguising them in sales of merchan-
dise, some French officials actively sought to redeem land that had been
pledged to Jewish lenders. To a certain extent, Jews were able to circum-
vent the measures adopted during these years. Despite the availability
of credit through banks and efforts to suppress loans at interest, Jews
continued to find clients because, unlike the government that required
reimbursement at a fixed date, from the Jews it was possible to obtain
a prolongation of the debt.^31 Still, in some of the Atlas communities, the

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