Photo: Kobi Har Zvi, Behadrei Haredim
Jewish worshippers at David's Tomb (archives)
Photo: Kobi Har Zvi, Behadrei Haredim

Jewish worshippers 'driving tourists away' from David's Tomb

Tour guides file a complaint with Tourism and Public Security ministries, claiming 'radical ultra-Orthodox activists' are disrupting their work by interfering in Christian tourists' visits to the Jerusalem holy site.

Israeli tour guides have filed a complaint with the Tourism and Public Security ministries, claiming that Jewish worshippers at David's Tomb are disrupting their work by interfering in their visits to the Jerusalem site with foreign tourists.



The tour guides further claimed that the police were failing to handle the regular friction created at the site, which is considered holy by both Jews and Christians.


David's Tomb has been the site of a fierce battle between Jews and Christians for a long time now. The Jewish worshippers have been trying to prevent the entry of Christians in light of reports that the Israeli government and the Vatican were in talks to hand control of the site over to the Catholic Church. So far, the battles have included protests and demonstrations, as well as organized activities by ultra-Orthodox and extreme right-wing activists.


David's Tomb. Tour guides have had enough (Photo: Kobi Har Zvi, Behadrei Haredim)
David's Tomb. Tour guides have had enough (Photo: Kobi Har Zvi, Behadrei Haredim)

Recently, the tour guides became involved in the conflict. The Israel Tour Guide Association (ITGA), which represents about 2,500 guides, have sent a letter to the tourism and public security ministers, asking them to intervene in the situation at the gravesite, which they said was "controlled by a radical haredi group that is doing as it pleases there."


They also claimed there was no regular policy security at the entrance to the compound and that groups of worshippers were disrupting the tours by making noise and interfering with the information provided to the tourists. Sometimes, they said, the worshippers try to prevent the tourists from entering the site.


"We have learned from complaints of tour guides received by the association that groups of worshippers have a habit of holding noisy mass gatherings near the tomb and in the adjacent rooms," the letter said. "During these gatherings, some of those present speak out loudly, push and shove, and sometimes even prevent visitors from entering."


The letter, signed by ITGA Chairman Benny Kfir, further stated that the Jewish activists had begun bringing large groups of people to the compound in order to make it difficult for tourists to visit the place.


"They are even preventing access to the gravesite," he added. "This causes great discomfort, affects the tourists' experience and harms Israel's reputation as a tourism country in general, and Jerusalem's reputation in particular."


According to reports received by the association, in one incident a guide escorting a couple of tourists was shoved by a worshipper using a wooden stand. The man also blocked the entrance to the prayer room and shouted at the tourists, protesting their visit to the holy site. According to the tour guide, the terrified visitors immediately fled the place.


The association also complained that the compound has been turned into a sort of yeshiva, which holds noisy Torah lessons. "Many worshippers arrive at the site and has become very crowded, causing discomfort among the tourists. Many of them have complained about it," one of the tour guides said.


The ITGA chairman says he has yet to receive "a serious response" from the government ministries.


The Tourism Ministry offered the following comment: "The David's Tomb compound is under the responsibility of the Department of Holy Sites (at the Ministry of Religious Services), and the Tour Guide Association's appeal has been handed over to the department by the Tourism Ministry. The Tourism Ministry ascribes a great amount of importance to the issue of granting access to the holy sites to tourists of all religions, and will discuss the issue with the relevant elements."


The police said in response that "the Western Wall Heritage Foundation has an usher stationed at the gravesite, whose job is to run the compound and maintain its procedures. Nonetheless, the police have set up a station on the nearby Mount Zion, and the officers are always available in case of a suspected criminal offense reported by the usher."


פרסום ראשון: 07.29.15, 00:40
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