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First direct commercial flights between Tel Aviv and Marrakech

The first direct commercial flights between Israel and Morocco started this Sunday, July 25, following the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries, in the context of the recognition by the United States of Moroccan sovereignty over the former Spanish Sahara, today called "Southern Provinces" by the Kingdom.

Departing from Ben Gourion airport in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the first Israeli Israir aircraft landed at Marrakech Menara airport at 12.45pm, after a flight of just over 6 hours (photo above). This Airbus A320 was greeted by the fire brigade's water cannons, the traditional "water salute", celebrating the arrival of this inaugural flight carrying just under a hundred passengers. A second aircraft, a Boeing Dreamliner 787-9, landed at 3.30pm on the tarmac of the same airport. This time it was flying the colours of the national airline El-Al.

The Israeli tourists were welcomed with dates, milk, mint tea and Moroccan cakes. Peace activist Houda Belkadi El Haloui presented them with white roses.

Three Israeli airlines and RAM

El-Al has announced five flights a week to Marrakech and Casablanca, starting at around 250 dollars. Israir is putting tickets on sale to Marrakech from mid-August, then three or four times a week from September, for just under 500 dollars. If Arkia is to be believed, it too will be launching flights from 4 August. These three carriers are aiming to carry 38'000 passengers to Morocco by the end of December.

Although it is not yet possible to book tickets on its website, the Moroccan national carrier RAM also intends to join in the fun. It is expected to embark 12'000 passengers over the same period. From 2022, Morocco is counting on an annual target of 200'000 tourists.

The Moroccan community in Israel numbers around 800'000, many of whom are nostalgic for their country of origin or that of their parents. Numerous religious sites also contribute to Morocco's appeal to the most observant Israelis of Moroccan origin. These include the Taroudant cemetery and the mausoleum of Rabbi David Ben Barroukh Cohen Azogh, some thirty kilometres east of Taroudant.

Cautious optimism

In view of the current figures for coronavirus contamination, a further closure of air borders is not out of the question. But both Morocco and Israel have achieved good vaccination rates, so there is reason for cautious optimism.

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