“Operation Mural”: Casablanca 1961
Presentation by President Shimon Peres
(Presidential Commemoration Ceremony June 1, 2008)
David G. Littman and President Shimon Peres (Photo: Ariane Littman)
Well, it is a belated ceremony, but it doesn’t lose its value, because what you did stands on its own legs and is not affected by time. I think that the saving of 530 children is, I imagine, the most moving experience a man can have. You say in Hebrew: “The one who saves one life is like the one that saved the life of the whole world.” (*) But when you save 530 children it’s really unforgettable. I want to express, on behalf of our people, our nation, our recognition of your courage, your wisdom, of your determination under extremely difficult conditions at a time when our connections were extremely weak.
And I must say, whenever I read again the story, I am moved to see the ingenuity and the courage that you have shown, and the results. So, thanks to it we have 530 people, families, children alive and it’s unique because in North Africa our connections were even weaker than in Europe, and the ground was less known [President Shimon Peres was Deputy Defence Minister in 1961] And, I think, if you wouldn’t do it, it wouldn’t be done. In order to do it, you were in touch with the Mossad and I wish to express the appreciation of the Mossad for all the performance, your activities, under cover, and successful result
President's conclusion - after speeches by David Gerald Littman ("Mural") and Swiss Ambassador Walter Haffner:
I would like to thank the ambassador and would like to thank you and your family for coming over and really… [inaudible words] every praise and the thanks of our nation for this very unusual operation in a country where [inaudible words] King Hassan II, a great friend of Israel – and so was his father, Muhammad V […] close to our hearts [inaudible passages]. That was the period when we could have lost the children, even the people. This act of salvation is an outstanding one. I thank you for coming and especially thank you for what you have performed and did. Thank you. [The president then greeted everyone and was photographed with all of those present.]
* The Mishnah, Fourth Division, The Sanhedrin, 4:5 (trans. by Herbert Danby, OUP, 1933, p. 388)
Also present at this private ceremony in the presidential residence were: daughter Diana Littman (with Elizabeth Wider), Ariane Littman with her three children (Tair, Daphnee, Kalia), and former agents of the Mossad (1961–): Samuel Toledano (N° 2 to the legendary Mossad chief Isser Harel, who captured Adolf Eichmann in 1960), Carmit Gatmon (widow of Alex Gatmon, Mossad chief in Morocco), Gad Shahar and Pinhas Katsir (‘contacts’ for ‘Mural’ in Casablanca), Miriam Korshia (widow of Hubert Korshia, head of children’s section), Col. Yamin Ka’anan (one of the 530 children), Tova Ronel (widow of Efraim Ronel, Mossad chief in Paris in 1961, with her daughter and son-in-law).
Background - translated from the Hebrew article of the MLM– Israel Intelligence Heritage Center, Sept. 2009, p. 38 [claifications]:
The place – Lausanne (Switzerland). The time – early 1961. David Gerald Littman, a young British-born Jew, reads William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and wonders: “What could a Jew, living in neutral countries like Sweden or Switzerland during World War II, have done to help Jews?” And the question quickly leads to another: “What can I do for Jews in distress right now?” Littman knew about the plight of the Jews in Egypt through his wife Giselle, who fled the country with her parents (in 1957, a year after the Suez War) in the wake of the Free Officers’ Revolt. He started knocking on the doors of International Jewish humanitarian organizations in Geneva, offering to help in any way. No one pays attention to the strapping young man, until he comes to OSE-Swiss. The director of that relief organization for Jewish children, Prof. Jacques Bloch, introduces Littman to Naftali Bar-Giora of the Jewish Agency, who had approached Bloch a few days earlier for help in bringing out Jewish children from Morocco. Littman did not yet know that the Agency was working on that operation with Isser Harel’s Mossad, and that he was entering the world of clandestine activity. Operation Mural commences.
David, Gisèle and Diana Littman - Casablanca (June 22, 1961)
The place – Morocco. The time – March 1961, two months after the illegal immigrant ship Egoz had capsized [with the loss of 44 Moroccan Jews, half of them children]. The gates of immigration from Morocco are closed. David and Gisèle Littman arrive in Casablanca [on 16th and 31st March, respectively] as Christians, and later David brings over their infant daughter Diana, aged 5 months. Their cover – ‘Gerald’ is an emissary of the newly created international children’s welfare organization, OSSEAN [Oeuvre Suisse de Secours aux Enfants de l’Afrique du Nord]. They stay at the city’s prime hotel [the Anfa Hotel, where Roosevelt and Churchill lodged in January 1943 for the Casablanca Conference], and David begins to substantiate his cover by forging a web of social relationships and contacts with key people in government circles, among others a senior official in one of Morocco’s security services. At the same time, he has clandestine meetings with Mossad emissaries Alex Gatmon [only the night before his 24th July departure], Gad Shahar and Pinhas Katzir, as well as with members of the “framework” – young Jews recruited to help their community to immigrate to Israel. The aim: obtaining government authorization for Moroccan children, both Jewish, [Christian] and Muslim, to attend a summer camp in Switzerland. David begins drawing up lists so that he can get the children collective group passports, a stratagem he adopted after learning that the Moroccan authorities preferred not issuing the children individual passports. The “framework” members prepare lists of Jewish children for him. The authorities agree with David to prepare a list of Muslim children from the families of Martyrs of the Moroccan independence. Between June 26 and July 24, 1961, 530 Jewish children, the youngest of them seven, leave for Switzerland in five convoys [with ‘collective passports’] and from there on to Israel. David Littman accompanies the last flight [his wife having left with Diana two days before]. Operation Mural is successfully concluded.
The place – Israel: the Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center. The time – July 1, 2009, three days before David Littman’s 76th birthday and he is about to receive the citation: ‘Hero of Silence’ Order ["An order of highest esteem and appreciation, awarded to David Gerald Littman: A clandestine warrior, who risked his life and who served a sacred cause of the People and of the State of Israel"]. The award is given by the Israel Intelligence and Commemoration Center and Intelligence Community to those, Jews and non-Jews alike, who volunteered, without pay, to work on secret missions for the State of Israel, at times risking their freedom and even lives. David is the ninth recipient of the award. Among those in attendance were his wife Gisèle, a well-know scholar of the Jews of Egypt [and Jews and Christians under Islam - dhimmitude - and of a future “Eurabia”], under the pen name Bat Ye’or, his daughter Ariane and her family, other relatives, representatives of “the children,” past and present members of the Mossad and members of the Israel Intelligence and Commemoration Center [over 200].
Colonel (Res.) Yossi Daskal read out the considerations of the prize committee, leading to its acceptance of the recommendation of the Mossad to bestow the award on David Littman [‘Mural’]: “Mr. Littman volunteered, at his own initiative to aid in bringing Jewish children from Morocco to Israel in 1961. He did so at risk to his life and to his family, with courage, with much resourcefulness, and without any compensation.”
The gathering was addressed by IICC Chairman Ephraim Halevi, former director-general of the Mossad [1998–2002]; deputy Mossad director-general R. [his name cannot be disclosed, nor his photo shown]; and Shmuel Toledano, the Mossad official responsible for clandestine aliyah operations at the time of Operation Mural. All the speakers extolled David Littman for his volunteering spirit, his resourcefulness, and his willingness to endanger himself and his family to save his Jewish brothers and sisters. He had undertaken the task without any training. The award was bestowed on Mr. Littman by Ephraim Halevi, deputy Mossad, director-general R., and Ms. Rosa Rot, representing the children.
David Littman expressed thanks for the award and explained his motives, emphasizing the [indispensable] support of his wife. He said that without her help [and the presence of their baby daughter Diana], he would almost certainly have ended the affair in a Moroccan prison. He also expressed his admiration for the parents, who were prepared to entrust their young children – in some cases four of them – to what was presented to them as a non-Jewish organization, without knowing if they would ever see them again.
A segment of Yehuda Kaveh’s film on David Littman and ‘Operation Mural’ was shown during the evening and the entire film after the ceremony. Especially moving was the testimony of one of the children, Yemin Kan’an, now a reserve intelligence colonel, about his separation from his family. To this day, he wonders how his mother got up the courage, and faith, to hand him over to people she didn’t know, as long as they would get him to Israel. He also wonders why she chose him, from all his siblings.
David Gerald Littman (Photo: Ariane Littman)
Address by David G. Littman
After the explanatory speech by IICC Chairman Efraim Halevy.
July 1, 2009
I am truly overwhelmed by what I have heard just now and wish to express my profoundest thanks and deep gratitude to all those in the MLM – the Israel Intelligence and Communications Center – and particularly its Chairman Efraim Halevy and the Head of the Committee of the ‘Hero of Silence’ Order, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Joseph Daskal, for their decision to confer on me this prestigious award and great honour for a humanitarian mission in Morocco forty-eight years ago. We shall cherish this precious moment forever.
On behalf of Gisèle, my one and only life companion; of Ariane, our Israeli artist daughter, her children and our grandchildren – 2nd Lt. Taïr, Daphnee and Kalia; and our darling daughter Diana, who was with us in Casablanca as a baby but could not join us today, I wish to express our warmest thoughts and personal appreciation to you all. To our relatives, to our dearest old and new friends, and to all of you who have come to share with us this moving moment, here at this unique Center – the symbol of Israel’s determination and inner strength.
Fifty years ago, almost to the day, a fellow student at the London Institute of Archaeology left me only one choice: to ask her to marry me. Barely two years earlier – after Nasser’s regime had created an intolerable situation for Egyptian Jewry – she and her parents had been stateless refugees in London. The rest is history, a particularly appropriate phrase because Gisèle Orebi, whose grandfather had received the title of Bey in 1908 from the Ottoman Sultan, was later to become known worldwide as Bat Ye’or. It is nearly forty years since the Daughter of the Nile began her pioneering research on dhimmis and dhimmitude – both past and present. Since the 1980s she has written major studies which, despite opposition from some academic and other circles, are regularly translated into several languages, reprinted and considered as essential reading in this field.
Why she accepted me as her “one and only” remains a mystery for both of us, but it became a dream come true. I have always said that without Gisèle’s presence and collaboration in Casablanca, while caring for Diana, I would probably have ended up in prison. The extraordinary thing was that she had the courage to remain by my side in an Arab country after fleeing Egypt. In fact, it was the birth of Diana that inspired her, a fervent Zionist, to do a good deed, a ‘mitzva’, for the Jewish people and for Israel. And that is why she agreed to join me in Morocco – despite her parents’ opposition – aiding me for four months, even after she realised that she was expecting our second child, Ariane.
Gisèle and Diana Aviva at the swimming pool
Anfa Hotel, Casablanca (Summer 1961)
It is also fifty years since the famous Isser Harel, after visiting Morocco twice, became convinced that the Jews were ready to make aliyah en masse – as Ben Gurion and the early Zionist leaders had always envisioned. With Shmulik Toledano as his deputy for Diaspora Affairs, Harel appointed Efraim Ronel, based in Paris, as the head of the North African misgueret, and Alex Gatmon in Morocco, supported by his courageous wife Carmite, and also Gad Shahar and Pinhas Katsir who later became my two contacts. All praise is due to them for their remarkable achievements which have been officially recognised, and to Hubert and Miriam Korshia, & to all their colleagues in the network.
How wonderful that we are altogether again with our lifelong friends: Carmit, Shmulik, Gad, Pinhas – as well as Miriam and Tova, the widow of Efraim Ronel whom we met for the first time last year at the president’s private reception.
This is a moment to pay homage to all those who have passed away: Alex Gatmon, Hubert Korshia, Isser Harel, Efraim Ronel, Moshe Kol and Naftali Bargiora, who I first met in Geneva three weeks after the ‘Egoz’ capsized with the tragic loss of 44 lives, half of them children; and sadly, only last month, Yehuda Dominitz, Naftali’s Jewish Agency boss and deputy to Zalman Shragai, the head of Israel’s Immigration Department. And a moment to remember as well Prof. Jacques Bloch, director of OSE-Suisse in Geneva, who helped save, via OSE-France, nearly 3000 Jewish children from deportation in Nazi-occupied France; and also those Swiss officials in Bern and Morocco who turned a blind eye to our ‘holiday’ project.
Remembrance and homage is due to those on the ‘Egoz’, and others, who lost their lives while dreaming of freedom, and also to all those unnamed and unsung members and volunteers of the misgueret in Morocco, nearly 200 youngsters, who dedicated themselves to the cause of North African Jewry in many dangerous operations – several of whom were tortured and one died soon after. I have vivid memories of their dedicated undercover work and I strongly recommend that their names and their stories be chronicled as pages in the early history of Israel’s rebirth.
The story of Operation Mural was first recounted by Shmuel Segev in a full page 1984 article in Maariv and a chapter of his book. This led to a public recognition by President Chaim Herzog at an official presidential reception, followed in 1986 by the Mimouna award which Gisèle and I received in the Sachar Park in Jerusalem from the then Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
None of this would have happened without the initiative of Shmulik Toledano, a distinguished public figure and advisor in government and the Knesset over the years, a man deeply engaged in the Mossad at that early period. He had promised me that if ever our story could be told he would inform me.
After the tragic death of Alex Gatmon in 1981, an exceptional person, a decision was taken to allow a book to be written on a Mossad operation by which nearly 100,000 Moroccan Jews reached Israel under his mandate. Two years later, Shmulik put me in contact with Shmuel Segev, who was fascinated on reading my detailed 1962 Report. He decided then and there to add a chapter on the exodus of our 530 children in his book, Operation Yakhin, especially since no one had even mentioned it to him. Dear Shmuel let me express again my deep gratitude to you for your decision 25 years ago; without it, our children’s Swiss holiday saga would have remained unknown.
Children lined up on the Casablanca tarmac, waiting to board the plane - July 10, 1961
Twenty years later, Meir Knafo generously decided that I should receive a special “Certificate of Recognition” at the 2004 Ashdod Day of Remembrance for Clandestine Networks of North Africa from Defence Minister General Shaul Mofaz. A warm welcome and reiterated thanks to Meir Knafo who is here tonight.
And last year, it was Shmulik who initiated that memorable private meeting with President Shimon Peres. We first met Shmulik forty-five years ago and I wish to express my warmest thoughts and deepest appreciation for all his constant efforts so that “Operation Mural” should receive the full recognition he felt it deserved.
* * * *
I wish to say now a few words on the history of North African Jewry, which offers us a profound lesson in courage, perseverance and moral force, in spite of constant humiliation and discrimination that lasted well into the 20th century in Morocco. It only ended in 1912 with the French Protectorate, when the dhimmi system was abolished, whereby even the Chief Rabbi of Fez, Vidal Sarfaty, had to go barefoot on leaving the mellah as described in a 1911 document that I published in 1975.
I have written articles on the degrading dhimmi status of the Jews in Morocco over the centuries and am presently finishing a book on this subject with Professor Paul Fenton of the Sorbonne. This research has made me even more conscious of the courage and inner resistance of Moroccan Jewry, who remained determined to return to Zion, despite difficulties in leaving, and stringent restrictions in entering Ottoman Palestine.
After Israel’s rebirth, about 92,000 Moroccan Jews made their aliyah before the gates were closed in 1956, soon after Morocco’s independence. Clandestine departures continued, but somewhat haphazardly. Contacts by the Mossad with the new king’s representatives were only beginning when I reached Casablanca on 16 March 1961, as delegate of an International children’s organization [OSE], renamed OSSEAN.
Fortunately, Alex and Gad backed my determination on using a ‘collective passport’ system, which I knew the Moroccan authorities preferred, and thus 530 courageous children, some as young as seven, were able in this way to make their aliyah in five convoys between 26 June and 24 July 1961. “Operation Mural” was soon followed by “Operation Yakhin”, whereby nearly 100,000 – entire families, the young and the old – reached Israel between 1962 and 1964, using the same agreed system of “collective passports”, this time with the king’s approval after negotiations with the Mossad.
The story of the courageous parents who entrusted up to four of their children to a non-Jewish organization, not knowing when they would ever see them again, has still to be told – and those who can best tell that story, and their own story, are the children themselves, some of whom are here with us today, having testified in the film to be shown soon: Yamin, Rosa, Yossi – and others here present.
Allow me to welcome director Yehuda Kaveh, producer, Ronit Dor, Haim Oliel, musician, and cameraman Rami Lital – bravo for your professionalism in putting together such a fine documentary: “Operation Mural”: Casablanca 1961. Shown twice on Channel 1, with a commentary by Efraim Halevy, it brought this story to the attention of the Israeli public and to thousands more worldwide, in a dozen festivals and on French Canadian TV, thanks to Michael Treves of JMT Films Distribution.
This is an exhilarating moment for the Littman family to be here at the MLM with you all, and for me to be honoured with the ‘Hero of Silence’ Order – almost 48 years after my precipitate departure from Casablanca and this three days prior to my 76th birthday on the 4th of July – and just two months before Gisèle and I will celebrate our golden wedding anniversary. Let me say, in very simple Hebrew, and with all my heart: Toda raba la Malam.
David and Gisele Littman with grandaughter, 2nd Lt. Taïr; behind them: Gad Shahar, Carmit Gatmon, Shmuel Segev (Photo: Ariane Littman)
Looking back, I can truly say that the best decision I ever made in my life was to marry a very special Daughter of the Nile, and the second best was to volunteer to bring out Jewish children from Morocco to Israel, via Switzerland. Our Casablanca mission remains indelibly in our minds, as will this unforgettable moment here.
In conclusion, I wish to quote those inspiring words from the prophet Jeremiah:
Behold I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither. They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble (…): And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord; that thy children shall come again to their own border. [31:8-9, 17]
Yes, the children of Israel have returned to “to their own border” – to the Land of Israel – and the long history of Moroccan Jewry is a special part of Israel’s unique saga, achieved with much tears, pain, and suffering, but also with joy and hope, and great expectations over the ages.
To comment on this article, please click here.
To help New English Review continue to publish interesting and informative articles, book reviews and speeches such as this one, please click here.