Morocco Returns to Israel Bodies of Shipwreck Victims

Israel will hold a state funeral for the 22 victims of a 1961 accident involving the immigrant boat Egoz, whose remains arrived here Wednesday from Morocco.

The Egoz went down in still-unexplained circumstances off Gibraltar, and the bodies of the 22 were washed ashore and buried in Morocco.

Efforts have been under way for several years to secure the consent of the Moroccan government for reinterment in Israel.

The decision of Moroccan King Hassan II to make a humanitarian gesture at this time is clearly linked to the brightening prospects for peace in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said this week.

“This is another step on the road to conciliation and peace between Israel and the Arab nations,” Rabin said in a warm message of gratitude to Hassan II.

The king’s move was a personal gesture to Rabin and to the positive stance he has taken on the peace process, according to Sam Ben-Chitrit, a prominent Israeli activist of Moroccan origin.

Ben-Chitrit was in Morocco for exhumation of the remains at the Jewish cemetery at Al-Hussemia, where the bodies washed up 31 years ago.

Hassan is known to have secretly hosted Rabin in Morocco during the Israeli’s first term as prime minister and is presumed to have met with him since.

Reinterment will take place at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem on Dec. 14 after a process of identification of the remains.

Relatives of the victims voiced strong but mixed emotions at the news of their arrival in Israel.

“I am shaking with emotion,” said Arye Ben-Haroush, 54, of Kiryat Yam, who lost his parents, two brothers and a sister on the Egoz.

“Now, at last, we will have graves; somewhere to go to and be with the memories of our dear ones,” he said.

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