‘Medicine and peace’ conference in Morocco features Israeli docs and Shabbat songs

The event, with 60 medical professionals from Morocco, Israel and France, focuses on spurring medical cooperation following 2020 diplomatic normalization

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Israeli, Moroccan and French medical experts at a conference in Morocco, October 30, 2022. (Sheherazade Boyer Tami)
Israeli, Moroccan and French medical experts at a conference in Morocco, October 30, 2022. (Sheherazade Boyer Tami)

A landmark medical conference in Morocco in recent days brought together local cancer specialists and experts from Israel, and all in a Jewish museum.

The three-day event, which concluded on Sunday, was titled “Tomorrow’s Medicine as a Bridge for Peace.” Discussions among the 60 participants focused on hopes that the 2020 normalization between Israel and Morocco will spur greater medical cooperation.

It took place in the western port city of Essaouira, known for its rich Jewish history and for the Bayt Dakira (House of Memory) Jewish museum, where the gathering took place. The museum, which opened in 2020, is dedicated to the historic coexistence of the city’s Jewish and Muslim communities.

The event was organized by Pax Medicalis, a France-based nonprofit known in English as the Peace Medical Association, that brings together medical professionals from Israel and Morocco, as well as French counterparts who also attended the event.

One of the Israeli participants, Bar Ilan University immunologist Prof. Cyrille Cohen, found the event particularly emotional due to his Moroccan-Jewish descent.

“I was very moved to speak about cancer in the land where my father and forefathers were born,” he told The Times of Israel. “Normalization has made a big difference, and is making it much easier to bring together Israelis and Moroccans to talk about how we can help each other in medicine.”

The event was opened by Andre Azoulay, adviser to Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, and one of the country’s best-known Jewish figures. On Friday night, all participants sat down for a kosher Shabbat meal, together with guests from the local Jewish community.

“We sang in Hebrew, we sang in Arabic, and everyone experienced Shabbat, about 100 people — it was amazing,” said Cohen.

Bar Ilan University immunologist Prof. Cyrille Cohen speaking at a medical conference in Morocco on October 30, 2022, beside a picture of Morocco’s king (Catherine Filliol)

As a leading cancer researcher and president of the Israeli Society for Cancer Research, Cohen was one of several presenters. Others included Prof. Miriam Ben Haroch from Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa and Laila Hessissen, professor of pediatrics at the Medical School of Rabat, Morocco.

Cohen said that the discussions highlighted how far Morocco has advanced in oncology, and how the time is right to build collaborations.

“Morocco has undergone a revolution in oncology in the past 15 years,” he said. “Israel is advanced in this field, and it is important to share our knowledge and to help the local population there and also to gain from their experience. I think that one of the next tasks will be to generate ongoing collaborations in the field of cancer research.

“The next step, we hope, will be to bring Moroccan doctors to Israel, and we’re looking forward to this.”

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