Morocco king Jewish half-sister battle: “All I want is to be recognized”

“I would love to travel to Morocco. There are the graves of my grandmother and grandfather. I was born in Morocco and it is a country that is part of me”, said Jane Benzaquene,

Tags : King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, Hassan II, Jane Benzaquene, Hedva Selaa, Anita Benzaquene,

Jane Benzaquen has launched legal action in Belgium to prove that she is the eldest daughter of Hassan II. At 70, she claims her right to know the truth. “My childhood was a big lie,” she said in an interview with El Independiente.

“My grandmother used to tell me the story of the palace car, a black Mercedes, that came to pick up my mother. Before getting into the vehicle, she unloaded boxes of meat, fruit and vegetables because she came from a fairly poor family.” For decades, Jane Benzaquen asked herself questions and, advised by those close to her, kept the answers secret. Today, as she approaches her 71st birthday, Jane has undertaken the battle of her life: having the Belgian courts recognize that the father she never knew is none other than Hassan II, the late king from Morocco.

“I am doing well, with the hope that the legal process progresses. The decision to get to this point wasn’t easy, but I feel strong. I am convinced that the truth will eventually come out,” Jane tells El Independiente in exquisite French. His courage is impressive, given the scale of the legal stakes and the size of his adversary, the omnipotent Moroccan Royal House, one of the main fortunes in Africa. If the Belgian courts agree with her, she will be recognized as the eldest daughter of Hassan II, the older half-sister of the current King Mohammed VI, the fruit of a relationship dating back to the 1950s, when Hassan II was still only a 21-year-old prince, enjoying – as his grandson does today – driving luxury cars.

Her mother Freha, on the other hand, helped her older sister in an exclusive clothing boutique in Casablanca and was only 17 years old. According to research carried out by her family, the relationship between the prince and Freha lasted two years: from 1951 to August 1953. Jane was born on November 14, 1953. The love probably began during the visit of Prince Moulay Hassan in the shop. One of Jane’s aunts remembers this “affair” in a video testimony. “Anita’s little sister describes in great detail the crown prince’s visit to her house, how a black Mercedes from the palace came to pick up her sister. Anita saved the family thanks to this relationship. It was a poor family without a father, and thanks to Anita’s love story, they got meat, vegetables and fruits, » says Eldad Sela, one of Jane’s sons, who accompanies him on his legal journey.

Anita and Hassan II

Decades of silence

The silence against which Jane ultimately rebelled marked her biography. “My childhood was quite difficult. At first, I tried to live it without asking questions. I knew little of what my grandmother and aunts told me, but never my mother,” the woman recalls. She spent her early years with a Christian host family in a small Flemish village in Belgium and, when she was reunited with her mother, cohabitation was not easy. Her mother already had a child, born three years earlier, when she was only 18 years old.

“For years I was very angry with my mother; I have already forgiven her. In a way, I ended up understanding her. She didn’t have an easy life either, because having a relationship with the prince of Morocco and being received at the palace must have been something very beautiful. The fact that I was born prevented her from continuing her life. Maybe, I don’t know, but I think she must have been angry with me. The proof is that she didn’t want to raise me. She didn’t want to be my mother. So I guess it also has something to do with the fact that she got pregnant when she didn’t want to and had to leave Morocco against her will.”

The question remained unresolved for decades, like a gift sent to the basement to avoid heavy memories. Jane was born in a discreet mother-and-child hotel in Casablanca. Ten months after her birth, she and her mother moved to Belgium. Her mother, expelled from Morocco, worked as an actress under the name Anita Benzaquen. In the operation to hide his origins, it was stipulated that the Belgian Raoul Jossart appear as his father on the birth certificate. But even the simplest facts do not agree with fiction: when the marriage supposedly took place in August 1949 in Casablanca, Raoul, a professional sailor twenty years older than Anita, was then working in the Netherlands and Scandinavia .

When she became aware of living in “a big lie”, she chose to distance herself. “My whole childhood was a big lie. Everyone tried to hide who I was from me. I wanted to break away from everything and I went to live in Israel. I was 18 and joined the army. There, I had no family or parents. I always lived my own life,” she recalls.

My whole childhood was a big lie. Everyone tried to hide who I was from me

Jane, who began her career as a hotel receptionist and worked her way up to management positions, has created a new life for herself. “I got married and had children. The truth is that for me, it was easier not to talk about it. So I left everything aside and didn’t tell anyone, not even my children.” Hers, she cautions, is not such a singular biography. “There are a lot of unwanted children who have gone through the same situation. This has nothing to do with being the daughter of a king or a father who didn’t give you his name or a mother who didn’t want to raise you. There are many children in the world like that and they all have complicated lives,” murmurs this mother of three and grandmother of six. “As soon as I got a little older and my children grew up, they asked me more questions. So, I wanted to give them the opportunity to understand where I come from and what my childhood was like.”

The funerals that sparked research

The “big revelation” – the event that opened “Pandora’s box”, as she herself describes it – occurred during the funeral of Hassan II in July 1999. “When I saw his photo , I realized he looked exactly like me. And then, thinking about everything my grandmother and my aunts had told me, I understood that he was my father. At that time, my mother, who had never spoken to me about this subject, told me that Raoul was not my father.” With the support of her descendants, she began a legal battle to trace her roots, a struggle that has lasted for more than two decades.

“My grandchildren have the right to know where we come from, where I come from. It is not enough to say that I am the king’s daughter. I investigated the place of my birth; I confirmed that my mother had never been married to Raoul…”. A detective task that continues today in the courts. The DNA tests Jane underwent confirmed that Raoul is not related to her. Some of his ancestors come from North Africa and the Middle East. Genetic testing also confirmed that his biological father is neither European nor Jewish. The request, in progress for three years, is continuing its course.

The hearing to hear the Royal Household lawyer is set for the third quarter of this year and the public hearing will take place early next year. “The hearing for the paternity procedure will take place in the first quarter of 2025 and the date of the public hearing will probably be in spring 2025,” specifies his lawyer Nathalie Uyttendaele. The firm which advises her has to its credit the success of the affair of Delphine de Saxe-Cobourg, an artist recognized as the illegitimate daughter of King Albert II of Belgium. The legal team considers that this is “a very well-founded, extremely dense case, which will make it possible to legally demonstrate that she is indeed the daughter of King Hassan II”.

“No one in the world would sue a royal family if they were not completely sure that the truth was with them,” Eldad told this newspaper. “So when he is accused of only wanting money, no one really understands that even for money, no one would do something ‘crazy’ like this. It’s a move only a daughter who loves her father would make. If Hassan II were alive today, I have no doubt that he would recognize her as his daughter,” he adds.

The refusal of the Moroccan Royal House

The main obstacle to recognition remains the Alawite Royal House and its refusal to submit to DNA tests. His lawyer has already argued that Hassan II’s children have judicial immunity. “They never really denied the relationship. They are not happy but I only ask to be accepted. They could call me tomorrow and invite me for coffee in Paris and recognize that I’m their sister. That would be enough. I’m not going to live in the palace or become a Moroccan princess. I am 70 years old and I have made my life. I don’t think I have many years left and I just want to know where I belong and put an end to the feeling I’ve carried with me all my life of not having known the truth.”

His mother, who died in 1996 at age 65, never returned to Morocco. “Not even when my grandmother died. She was the only one to miss the funeral. She must have had a good reason not to go back,” Jane thinks. She has never set foot in the Arab country either.  » I have never been there. I want to go there one day, but only when I am received properly,” she says, expressing some caution. “I would love to travel to Morocco. There are the graves of my grandmother and grandfather. I was born in Morocco and it is a country that is part of me.”

I think that as a child I should not have been punished because my mother had a relationship with the man who would become king of Morocco

Jane, who left Israel and currently lives in Belgium, doesn’t waver when asked what ending she envisions for the story.  » We will win. We have already gone very far. We have come a long way and the truth will ultimately prevail,” she says. “They can refuse the DNA test but they must reach an agreement. Belgian justice is very favorable to children’s rights. And our lawyer Marc Uyttendaele always says that every child has the right to know who his parents are and where he comes from.”

That Jane is Jewish and Hassan II a Muslim king, prince of believers, “changes nothing”. “It doesn’t bother me or interest me. In the eyes of Judaism, I am Jewish through my mother. And in the eyes of Islam, Muslim through my father. And I grew up until the age of 13 in a Belgian Christian village, with visits to church included. This is my life, in the shadow of three religions. I think that as a child, I should not have been punished because my mother had a relationship with the man who would become king of Morocco. I just want to know that I have a father.”

Jane recognizes that it’s too late to ask the questions she never asked her mother. “Why did she always lie to me and why didn’t she love me? These are the questions I would like to ask my mother,” she says. “I tried to live my life and sometimes I did it alone. I think I’ve always been a pretty strong woman. I have a good family: three children and six grandchildren and good friends, both in Belgium and in Israel. I’m not going to give up now.”

Le cas Hicham Mandari

There are at least three other people who claim to be children of Hassan II. The most publicized is Hicham Mandari. In 2004, Mandari, a former aide to the Moroccan royal family, was shot and killed in southern Spain. He left Rabat in 1999 when Hassan II was dying and, after threatening to reveal palace secrets, he was accused of fraud. Mandari claimed to be the illegitimate son of Hassan II, the result of his relationship with a palace assistant, Farida Cherkaoui.

Source: El Independiente , 05/19/2024

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