Egyptian MPs: Stop Israeli pilgrimages

Say visitors to Rabbi's grave site behave offensively; organizer: Every year they complain [The Media Line].

Egyptian parliament 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Egyptian parliament 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Egyptian members of parliament and activists are campaigning to prevent thousands of Israeli Jews from flocking to Egypt every year to visit the grave of a famous rabbi. Thousands of Israelis make annual trips to neighboring Egypt to celebrate the birthday of Rabbi Ya'aqov Abu Ha'seira, a 19th-century Moroccan Jew who was considered a holy man and is buried in Egypt about 156 kilometers north of Cairo. Locals say Israeli visitors behave in a way they find offensive. Campaigners say the visitors dance and wear provocative clothing and that the locals suffer from the tight security measures applied throughout the festivities. The campaigners also say the farmers who live in the area around the tomb are being pressured into selling their land so that investors can build a resort in the area to accommodate the annual visitors. Offers have so far been turned down, reports said. The celebrations are scheduled to take place on January 14, 2009, coinciding with the rabbi's Hebrew birthday. Campaigners are hoping to collect a million signatures to have the Egyptian government cancel the festivities altogether. The Egyptian Ministry of Culture has listed the area of the tomb, in the village of Demito north of Cairo, as an antiquity area. An Egyptian court revoked this ruling in 2004, but the government has yet to comply with the decision. Most Egyptian Jews immigrated to Israel in the late 1950s leaving a small community of fewer than 100 Jews there today. Ya'aqov Yehudayoff is a fifth-generation descendant of Rabbi Abu Ha'seira who organizes annual trips to the grave. He said the opposition to the festivities was nothing new. "Every year we hear complaints," he told The Media Line. "As far as the Egyptian authorities are concerned, the resort was closed by a court order a few years ago. That year the festivities coincided with Ramadan and they said at the time that we didn't respect their feelings. They went to court and closed it down. Since then, every year it's opened by a temporary court order and even then, they make things very difficult for us." In the past, some 25,000 Jews headed for the festivities every year. In recent years the numbers have dropped to several thousand. As of Wednesday, around 260 people had made reservations. Yehudayoff estimated that around 1,500 Jews would eventually make the trip in January. The Egyptian authorities had a tough situation to balance because they were interested in maintaining good relations with Israel, he said. "The Egyptian authorities don't want Israeli interests to be damaged," Yehudayoff said. "They want to show they're on good terms with us." The compound is owned by Jews and has recently been renovated with money donated by Jews from overseas, he said. As to claims of indecent behavior, Yehudayoff said part of the festivities included praying, drinking and being happy, but insisted they were not interfering with the locals.