CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it had told Israel that it would not be “appropriate” for Israeli pilgrims to make an annual visit to the tomb of a 19th-century Jewish holy man in the Nile Delta, as activists mobilized to block the pilgrimage route.
Ceremonies at the tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hatizra have triggered yearly political sparring in Egypt throughout most of the last decade, with Islamists, nationalists, and others claiming that the government by allowing the pilgrimage is pursuing an unpopular policy of normalization with the country’s former enemy.
Egypt notified Israel two months ago that it would be “impossible to hold the annual ceremony because of the political and security situation in the country,” the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
An Islamist politician involved in organizating protests against the march meanwhile said that visiting Abu Hatzira’s gravesite in the village of Daymouta, 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of Cairo would be a “suicide mission” for Israelis, because of popular opposition to their presence in Egypt.
“Normalization (of relations) with Israel is forced on the people, and the visits too come against the will of the people and despite popular rejection,” said Gamal Heshmat of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s best organized political group.
Heshmat said that activists planned to stage sit-ins and other protests to block the route as soon as they hear the pilgrims are on their way. Egypt’s daily Al-Ahram newspaper reported Tuesday that 31 parties and groups had joined this year’s campaign.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization based in Los Angeles, denounced the attempts to block the pilgrimage. In a Tuesday statement, the center’s Abraham Cooper accused the Brotherhood of trying to “curb religious freedom of Jews.”
“In their worldview, there is no respect for the traditions for Jews, dead or alive,” he said.
A son to a chief rabbi of Morocco, Abu Hatzira was revered by some Jews as a mystic renowned for his piety and for performing miracles. The elderly rabbi was making his way from his native Morocco to the Holy Land in 1879 when he fell ill and died in the Egyptian city of Damanhour near Alexandria.
According to tradition, his followers tried to move his tomb three times, and three times heavy storms prevented them.
After Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, Jewish devotees — mostly of Moroccan origin — have traveled annually to the site. But Egypt has limited the numbers of pilgrims.
In 2001 and 2004, two court orders banned the ceremony after opponents filed legal challenges.
Since then, both Delta residents and activist groups have denounced the ceremony. The residents complain of harassment by security forces deployed to protect the pilgrims. Activists oppose the normalization of relations with a country that Egypt fought in four wars between 1948 and 1973, and also see the defiance of the court order as part of the Mubarak regime’s general trampling of the rule of law.
In 2009, Egypt officially denied the pilgrims entry because the anniversary fell while Israel was conducing an offensive in Gaza.
A year later, the Israeli press reported that Mubarak accepted a request from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lift the limits on the number of pilgrims.
The tomb is a vestige of Egypt’s once-prosperous Jewish community, which at the time of the first war with Israel in 1948 numbered about 80,000 people.
But the Arab-Israeli wars, and the resentment and expulsions that they engendered, have reduced the number of Egypt’s Jews to about 60 individuals, according to the Israeli embassy.
More Related Stories
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Bridge collapse: Part of "aging infrastructure"
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Interstate 5 bridge collapses north of Seattle
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
- 80-year-old becomes oldest to climb Mount Everest
- Before FBI shooting man implicated self, Tsarnaev in triple murder
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11