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Moroccan Quarter

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The Moroccan Quarter sometime between 1898 and 1946.

The Moroccan Quarter or Mughrabi Quarter (Arabic حارة المغاربة Harat al-Maghariba) was an 800 year old neighborhood in the southeast corner of the Old City of Jerusalem, bordering on the western wall of the Temple Mount on the east (including the Western Wall), the Old City walls on the south (including the Dung Gate), the Jewish Quarter to the west, and the Muslim Quarter to the north. Several schools and religious institutions were located there. The fifth and smallest of the old Jerusalem neighborhoods, it was largely demolished in 1967 by the Israeli government in order to make public access to the Western Wall easier. Today, most of the area has been fully absorbed into the Jewish Quarter and almost no trace of it is left.


The quarter was established in 1193 by Saladin's son al-Malik al-Afdal, according to the 14th-century historian Mujir ud-Din, as a waqf (charitable trust) dedicated to Moroccans ; he also established a school there, the Afdaliyyah. Later pious Moroccan donors extended this with several other waqfs: in 1303, one Umar ibn Abdullah ibn Abdun-Nabi al-Masmudi al-Mujarrad endowed a zaouia (religious school) for the benefit of Moroccans living in the Moroccan Quarter, while in 1320 Shuayb ibn Muhammad ibn Shuayb, a grandson of the major Sufi Abu Madyan al-Ghauth, endowed a second zaouia there to be funded by his lands at Ain Karim. In 1352, the Marinid king of Morocco himself, Ali ibn Uthman ibn Ya'qub ibn Abdul-Haqq, established a smaller waqf - a Qur'an donated to the al-Aqsa Mosque, together with a representative to ensure that it was read from regularly.[1]


The quarter was donated to and mainly inhabited by people of Moroccan descent, who held on to their culture in the way of food, clothing and traditions until the neighborhood became assimilated with the rest of the Old City in the 19th century. Thus it also became a natural place of stay to Moroccans who came on pilgrimage to the al-Aqsa Mosque. Over the years a small number of schools, scientific institutions and mosques were established in the quarter and it became home to Muslim clerics who performed religious duties at the al-Aqsa Mosque.[2] The neighborhood held the offices of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem [3] In 1933-36, Yasser Arafat lived in the neighborhood.[4] He and his brother were sent there to live with their uncle, Selim Abul Saoud, after his mother died.[5]

The feature of the neighborhood that would eventually doom it was its location. Houses in the quarter were only four meters away from the sacred Western Wall (also known as the "Wailing Wall"), a remnant of the Second Temple plaza and an important place of pilgrimage for Jews. Public access to the wall was through a narrow passage from King David's Street, sometimes leading to tensions between the Jewish visitors, wanting easier access and more space, and the residents, who complained of the noise.[3] With the onset of modern Zionism, these tensions increased. In 1918 the influential Jewish leader Chaim Weizmann sent a letter to the British Foreign Office asking for the quarter to be removed and the wall placed under Jewish ownership; however, the British maintained the status quo ante, and the wall as well as the Moroccan Quarter remained Waqf property, while Jews retained their longstanding right to visit it. After the 1929 Palestine riots, Great Britain appointed a commission under the approval of the League of Nations to settle the issue. The Commission again reaffirmed the status quo, while placing certain restrictions on activities, including forbidding Jews from conducting the Yom Kippur prayers, which involved the blowing of the Shofar, and Muslims from carrying out the Zikr ceremony (the playing of music) close to the wall or to cause annoyance to the Jews.[3]

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War Israeli and Jordanian forces fought in the area until the former were defeated and expelled along with 1,500 Jewish civilians from the adjacent Jewish Quarter.[6] The quarter, with the rest of the Old City, passed into the hands of Jordan. While under Jordanian rule, a third of the Jewish Quarter, overlooking the Moroccan Quarter and Western Wall, was razed to the ground.


Kotel 1967

Bulldozers clearing rubble, July 1967

Three days after Israel seized the Old City during the Six Day War, on the evening of June 10, 650 inhabitants of the Moroccan Quarter were told to vacate their homes on a few hours notice. Workers under the guard of soldiers then proceeded to demolish the quarter, consisting of 135 houses, the al-Buraq mosque, the Bou Medyan zaouia and other sites, with the exception of a mosque and a zaouia which were demolished two years later. According to Etan Ben Moshe, the officer in charge, several persons died following their refusal to leave their homes; one woman from the quarter who did not hear the calls to vacate was buried beneath the rubble, her body found the next morning under the ruins of her home.[6][7] In the following days all of the Palestinian Arab inhabitants of the Jewish Quarter were also evicted.[8]

The demolition was set into motion by Mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek, who also wrote about it in his 1978 autobiography, at the request of Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion after he had accompanied Ben-Gurion to the Western Wall the day after Israel seized control of the Old City.[7][8] In a letter to the United Nations, the Israeli government stated that the reason for the demolition was that the Jordanian government had converted the neighborhood into a slum area.[9] The speed at which the quarter was demolished has been explained with the huge crowd of Jewish worshippers expected, who would be able to pray at the wall for the first time in 19 years.[6][8]

Almost a year later, on April 18, 1968, the Israeli Ministry of the Treasury officially expropriated the land of the quarter for public use, along with the Jewish Quarter, and offered 200 Jordanian dinars to each family which had been displaced.[6][7]

After the destruction, the section of the Wall dedicated to prayers was extended southwards to double its original length from 28 to 60 meters, while the original facing open area of some four meters grew to 40 meters: the small 120 square meter area in front of the wall became the vast Western Wall Plaza, covering 20,000 square meters over the ruins of the Moghrabi Quarter.[7] The site of the Moroccan Quarter is now a large open plaza leading up to Western Wall, in use as an open-air synagogue.


  1. "The Islamic Pious Foundations in Jerusalem", Abdul Latif Tibawi, The Islamic Cultural Centre, London 1978.
  2. "The Moroccan Community in Palestine", Noura al-Tijani, This Week In Palestine (retrieved August 25, 2007)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Report from the International Commission for the Wailing Wall", December 1930 (available as UN doc A/7057 - S/8427 at UNISPAL)
  4. "The Mystery of Arafat", Danny Rubenstein, Steerforth Press, Vermont 1995, p. 21-22, quoted by the Jerusalem Quarterly (Summer 2005/24)
  5. Birth and childhood of Yasser Arafat
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 The Moroccan Quarter: A History of the Present, Jerusalem Quarterly (Winter 2000/7), Institute of Jerusalem Studies (retrieved August 17, 2007)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Simone RIcca: Heritage, Nationalism and the Shifting Symbolism of the Wailing Wall", Jerusalem Quarterly (Summer 2005/24), Institute of Jerusalem Studies (retrieved August 17, 2007)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Teddy Kollek and the Native Question", Joost R. Hiltermann, Middle East Report 05-06/1993 (available at
  9. Letter to the Secretary General, letter from the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, March 6, 1968 (retrieved August 25, 2007)

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