"During that year I was summoned, as the new immigrant my papers stated I was, to the draft board to be mobilized into the Israeli army!"
AVI EGOZI, Machzor Kaf-Hey 1959-60
Avi Egozi's memoires of Illegal Immigration and his year at the Machon
The year was 1958 the year of my matriculation and I was 17 years old. The gates to Israel were closed at that time to many Jews who wished to migrate even if they were prepared to come with no belongings. They heard the “call” and they didn't want to miss the opportunity to be in Israel during those monumental times. The organization for immigration to Israel was in desperate need of local people who could make contact with those families interested in making 'aliya' and show them how to cross borders when the time came.
I was given the job of traveling to the nearby town of Fez and to be of assistance to a family who had expressed their wish to get to Israel, to comfort them, assure them and prepare them to be ready at a minute's notice for a long journey.
In hindsight, even now so many years later, it is hard for me to fathom how whole families, complete with their elderly and all their belongings, were prepared to put their trust in people so young and to accept the unknown; only due to the intensity of their determination to go Israel.
I was involved in this activity for about six months while at the same time continuing my studies. The last task given to me before I went to the Machon in Jerusalem was to accompany a group of olim which included large families, from their homes all the way to Israel.
The group in all numbered some sixty people amongst whom were two elderly men. In those days Spain still governed two cities in Morocco on the Mediterranean coast, Ceuta and Melilla that were very close to Gibraltar. The Israeli authorities exploited this fact to smuggle olim to a camp in Gibraltar and from there to France and then to Israel. We traveled in a convoy of taxis to a small hotel and from there to the shore at midnight where we got into small fishing boats which brought us further along the coast to the town of Ceuta. Just getting into these fishing boats was a traumatic experience. In the middle of the night we had to get out of the vehicles and wade out to the fishing boats. This might have been considered an adventure if everyone would have been my age, but here we had adults and really elderly people, women and children who had to do this in total silence and all the time there was the danger of their meager possessions falling into the sea. It was by no means easy. These poor olim suffered at the hands of the local smugglers. They taped the mouths of the children to make sure that they did not make any noise. That walk through the water, the long boat journey in cramped conditions and the fear of losing their possessions made that journey a real nightmare.
At the end of the boat ride we came face to face with the local Spanish authorities who were sure we must be smuggling either drugs or cigarettes. Two of the men, the family patriarchs, and myself were arrested and taken off for questioning. The rest were taken to a small hotel to rest while we were at the local police station. The experience was not enjoyable but at least they treated us with some respect. Because they spoke Spanish we could not understand their questions. We only understood that they kept on asking us why we were trying to leave, and so one of the party made the excuse that his wife was pregnant and the doctor had advised him to move to a better climate! When they asked me questions I answered in French and they didn't understand, so they decided to wait until a translator arrived before they would even think of releasing us. The hours went by and our concern grew greater and greater. At the end of the day, finally, a man arrived at our cell who introduced himself, shook our hands, smiled and said shalom in Hebrew. We thought he was our savior, and indeed he was. He was the liaison man for the Jewish Agency and knew the ropes and how to bribe the right people. We returned to the olim and we all made our way to a ferry which took us straight over to Gibraltar.
The rock of Gibraltar separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean Sea harbors a lively town. The island had been under British rule for many years and despite the fact that it was so close to Spain everything around us gave us the feeling that we were in Britain. The language, the currency and the fact that everyone traveled on the left gave us the impression that we were in Her Majesty's Commonwealth. All the olim were sheltered in long hangers which had apparently housed the RAF during the Second World War. These hangers were constructed of corrugated iron which offered no insulation from the outside. The wind rattled the sheets of metal. The heat was almost unbearable and it was impossible to get any rest.
A chartered plane flew us to Marseilles in France. It was the first flight of my life and I didn't feel at all safe. The plane was something left over from the Second World War and didn't give us very much confidence. The olim gave voice to their fears through prayers to the Almighty to bring them safely to the Promised Land. We landed in France.
We were taken to a transition camp called Camp d'Arenas. Everyone from North African countries was brought to this former military camp where they had a medical check and various other examinations. The first attempt of absorption was made there, emotional family reunions took place, and as much preparation as was possible for their life in Israel was undertaken in those conditions.
We stayed there all of two weeks and then made the journey on the famous "Artza" ship from Marseilles to Haifa.
Avi on the Artza
I could have elaborated on every one of those events, the Cueta coast, Gibraltar, Camp d'Arenas, the charter plane, the Artza voyage, I could have gone into details and impressions but one can have too much of a "good thing" so I shall go on to another episode.... My year at the Machon Lemadrichei Chutz La'Aretz
I was young and innocent - I have since grown up and today I am aware of the sins I committed
In using the word "sins" I suppose I hope to atone for the heartbreak that I caused my parents and family on my new road - my involvement with the illegal emigration of Jews from Morocco, my leaving home to go to Israel, and my participation in the Machon didn't help.
I did not take my family into consideration at all during these activities.
After all, my clandestine activities endangered those closest to me and I asked permission of no one. I was only a student, albeit a diligent one, and had lead them all to believe that I was intent on continuing with an academic career. So why on earth did I abandon my studies and get involved in subversive activity that was of itself a danger to my family?
My father, who had devoted all his life to supporting his family and studying the Torah, never dreamed that his son Albert could be engaged in foreign affairs putting his whole future at risk. Two years passed and I had overcome my awe of my father, and my youth and my enthusiasm pushed me on to these new adventures.
My parents did nothing to impede me even though they were obviously unhappy with direction I was taking.
I did try to explain to father and to ask his blessing. I introduced him to the Israeli emissary whose name was Giles and whose French was not that fluent. My father understood that I had come under the influence of a "foreign power" and he wasn't at all happy with the situation. Giles tried to persuade him that his son was going to Israel only to study and would return within the year. He was not convinced and after trying for all his worth to dissuade me from going, left it to my uncles to try their part, also to no avail. I was determined.
So in the end, in secret I unhappily parted company from my parents and brothers, especially as we had no idea what the future might bring, whether we would see each other again, what hurdles I might meet and what barriers I might have to cross.
I have already told of my journey to Israel but I had already experienced the tribulations of travel from Morocco to Israel during my first year of Zionist activities, when I was only 16 years old. I participated in a Dror Machanot Haolim Seminar where I improved my Zionist knowledge and developed the powers of debate. After that seminar I returned to Morocco to study for my matriculation but I was already determined to accept the opportunity to study at the Machon LeMadrichim in Jerusalem.
This time my journey was made with families making aliya who had decided to make their new homes in Israel. We were all issued with the same papers. I had no passport so I went to the Machon as an "Oleh Hadash" - a new immigrant. At the time I didn't realize how many problems this would cause me.
Avi (with hat) at the border - 1959
After the six months in Jerusalem, I found myself in Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev working in fields of cotton and cereals and experiencing hard labor under the burning Negev sun.
My encounter with the hardships of physical work in the kibbutz were of no account in comparison with the rich social life we youngsters experienced.
During that year I was summoned, as the new immigrant my papers stated I was, to the draft board to be mobilized into the Israeli army, and I kept thinking that bureaucracy being what it was I would be snatched from my studies at the Machon and issued with uniform and rifle to serve the country that I had still not formally become a citizen of. My status was after all not at all clear - I was sometimes a student sometimes a youth leader, I had been working for the immigration authorities, yet had entered Israel as a new immigrant. So in order to overcome anomalies the new immigrant status was cancelled and I was issued with a "Laissez Passer" as a stateless parson.
The year of studies ended and all my friends returned to their own countries. According to my instructions, and furnished with my "Laissez Passer" I applied to the French Consulate for a transit visa to get me through France back to Morocco. The French refused to issue me with the certificate stating that they had no need of yet another stateless person wondering the streets of France. Two months and no solution was found. I went to spend some time with chaverim from Morocco who had made aliya and were living on Kibbutz Bet Oren. Unfortunately this group called "Garin Oranim" later dissolved, they separated and went their own ways to various places throughout the country.
I was stranded in Israel and they were waiting for me back in Morocco. How was I to get out of this predicament?
Finally the same people who had organized my entry into Israel had me issued with a new identity with which I was able to enter France and from there to travel to Morocco. I was now Avi Egozi (yes for the first time my official name was changed from Azougi to Egozi), born in Petach Tikva in the year 1941 (I was now a Sabra born in Israel!) and domiciled in Soutine Street, Tel Aviv [the offices of the Kibbutz movement Hakibbutz Hame'uchad, no less]. With this passport I could get a French visa and on arrival in Paris I handed over that passport to the Israeli Mossad and a few days later with suitable instructions I was issued with yet another passport with yet another pseudonym and purchased an airline ticket to Morocco.
The flight was to Casablanca, but the plane made short stop on the way at Meknes, where my parents lived and where I was born. I was fearful when I got off the plane that someone would recognize me and give away my secret. And indeed when debarking, I was amazed to see that the hostess who greeted us was no other than Jacqueline, my cousin who naturally recognized me immediately. She came forwards with hands extended to embrace me but understanding the worried expression that I had on my face, she made a sudden turn and continued on passed me. What an experience that was!
Avi was for many years a member of Kibbutz Hukkok. His last assignment before retirement was the Director of the Department of Education for the North of Israel. Since retirement he has been very active at the Kadouri school.