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Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira's tomb Photo: Moti Cohen
Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira's tomb Photo: Moti Cohen
 
Islamists vow to block road to tomb with human chains (archives) Photo: MCT
Islamists vow to block road to tomb with human chains (archives) Photo: MCT
 
 

Egyptians: No pilgrimage to rabbi's tomb

Islamists, other activists say annual pilgrimage to grave of 19th-century Jewish holy man in Nile Delta will be 'suicide mission' for Israelis

Associated Press
Published: 01.11.12, 15:05 / Israel Jewish Scene

Egyptian Islamists and other activists say they have vowed to prevent Israelis from making an annual pilgrimage to the tomb of a 19th-century Jewish holy man in the Nile Delta.

 

Pilgrimage opponents have decided to stage protests on roads leading to the tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira in the village of Daymouta, 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of Cairo, said Gamal Heshmat of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group which is the country's best organized political movement.

 

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He said that the late December and early January pilgrimage 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 people and despite popular rejection," said Heshmat, who recently won a seat in parliament in the country's first elections following the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak.

 

Egyptian activists have rallied against the pilgrimage every year for most of the last decade. 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.

 

Vestige of once-prosperous Jewish community

A son to a chief rabbi of Morocco, Abu Hatzeira 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 conducting 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.

  

 

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