Many Moroccan Jews, particularly those in Tangier, received protection from European powers for service to their governments. These “proteges” did not pay taxes and were immune from prosecution. There might have been 6,000 proteges in all of Morocco in 1890, most of whom were Jews. The population resented these Jews, a small minority of the Jewish population, for opposing the Sultan and supporting the Europeans.
In efforts to gain greater control over trade with Morocco, the Europeans demanded legal recognition for the privileges of their proteges. The 1880 Madrid Convention increased the power of the Europeans to name proteges. While this benefited some richer Jews, the majority of Moroccan Jews did not benefit.
The efforts of European powers to push the Sultan’s government into bankruptcy coincided with criticisms by non-Moroccan Jewish organizations of the treatment of Moroccan Jews. In 1905, the US Government sent an investigatory mission to Tangier to determine the validity of claims by American Jewish organizations that Moroccan Jews were being oppressed. The researchers found that the Islamic regulations restricting Jewish religious practices (dhimmi regulations) had not been implemented since the 1870’s. The head rabbi of Tangier asked the Americans not to intervene on behalf of the Moroccan Jews. At the 1906 Algeciras Conference, US representatives ensured that the Conference documents praised the Sultan’s Government for improvements in conditions of Jews and asked it to guarantee to treat all Moroccans equally.
The Algeciras Conference enabled the European powers to divide up Morocco between the French and the Spanish. In 1907, the French found a pretext for full-scale invasion when a few Europeans in Marrakesh and Casablanca were killed. After 3,000 French troops occupied Casablanca, the mellah (Jewish quarter) was pillaged.
From 1907-1912, French and Spanish soldiers took control of increasingly large areas of the country. The French gained effective control over Morocco with the signing of the Treaty of Fez in 1912, establishing the majority of Morocco as a French protectorate. Spain was given control of Northwest Morocco and in 1923, the city of Tangier became an international zone.
The Treaty of Fez was signed on March 30, 1912. On April 17, the Sultan’s troops in Fez revolted, but they were unable to enter the European quarter, which was protected by French troops. Instead, the soldiers and a crowd following them pillaged the mellah, from which the French had previously confiscated all weapons. In order to force the rioters away from the mellah, French soldiers fired missiles and bombs, destroying houses and causing fires. As a result, Jews abandoned the mellah, which was pillaged the next day by villagers. During the three days of violence, 51 Jews were killed and 72 were wounded. French troops had a similar number of casualties, while almost 1,000 Muslims were killed or wounded. A third of the mellah was destroyed, and 12,000 Jews found themselves homeless.