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Abraham Accords allow Israelis to excavate two huge ‘genizas’ found in rural Morocco

May 01, 2023

Normalization lets Israeli researchers formalize ties with Moroccan experts to investigate remnants of Jewish life – with aid of Israelis who once lived in those abandoned villages.

Deep in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco’s Sahara desert, an abandoned mud-brick synagogue was in the process of slowly crumbling, its roof caving and columns teetering, when, in 2020, it was rediscovered by a group of Israeli and Moroccan researchers.

Antiquities thieves had already ransacked the former house of prayer, searching for anything of value and scattering sacred Jewish texts that had been buried in the geniza, a repository for old or unusable holy texts.

To salvage and study what remained, the group of researchers started the process of obtaining permits to start an archaeological dig at the synagogue. The Israeli researchers — as usual — played down affiliations with their home universities.

But in December of 2020, Israel and Morocco normalized relations as part of the Abraham Accords. This was a boon for Israeli researchers who, having worked in Morocco in an unofficial capacity for years, could now formalize their academic relationships and pursue joint research projects — such as excavating and preserving the synagogue.

“This research is a new opportunity which is sitting at the intersection of changes in the way [Israelis] are thinking about Jews from Morocco, the agreement with Israel, and the relationship between Jews and Morocco itself,” explained Dr. Orit Ouaknine-Yekutieli, a historian at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, who uncovered the geniza along with her partner, BGU archaeologist Professor Yuval Yekutieli, and a number of Moroccan experts.

“Our research is taking advantage of this unique intersection of opportunities, but it’s also the result of years of close cooperation with friends in Morocco that was less formal until now,” she said.

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