The first local convention of French-speaking members of the ancient Freemasonry society will begin Thursday in Jerusalem, as 250 Freemasons descend on Israel. The gathering will last for one week. The Freemasons have been considered a secret and controversial society for hundreds of years, and some people trace its roots back to the days of King Solomon. The French speakers will visit major tourist sites in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, the Kinneret and Tel Aviv. They will hold a symposium at the YMCA in Jerusalem on Freemasonry in the modern age and examine the latest archeological findings in the City of David. The Tourism Ministry hopes to convince the visiting members of the centuries-old organization to hold their annual gatherings in Israel. Tradition states that famous Freemasons included members such as English philosopher John Locke, the UK's legendary prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, 26th US president Theodore Roosevelt, American author Mark Twain, German composer and virtuoso pianist Beethoven, Hussein King of Jordan and Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. The society supports the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. Critics of the Freemasons have claimed they controlled the world's economy, while Freemason supporters have said they were crucial for public and charity works. The first branch of Freemasons in Israel was established in 1868. There are millions of active "lodge" members worldwide.