More than 50,000 people visited the West Bank city of Hebron during the Passover mid holidays, sources in the city's Jewish community estimated Thursday.
Hebron's Jewish community celebrates twice a year, on Sukkot and on Passover, when the Cave of the Patriarchs is fully open to Jews, including the sacred room of Isaac, which is located on the side which is usually open to Muslims only.
Cave of Patriarchs fully open to Jews (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Most visitors arrive to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs, but throughout the years the event had turned into a demonstration of support for the Jewish settlement in the city.
'Want to see a tourism city here'
The event included performances by prominent Jewish singers, including Udi Davidi, Yehuda Saado and Haim Israel, as well as tours of the city's sites and different activities for children and families.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who arrived in the city on Thursday to support its Jewish residents, said that "the mass event in Hebron is the answer to the handful of leftists who gathered in Tel Aviv today to declare the establishment of a Palestinian state – an empty and meaningless declaration."
Hebron, Passover 2011 (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Noam Arnon, the Jewish community's spokesman who guided the visitors at the Hebron casbah, said the thousands of visitors toured the area, shopped and spoke to local residents.
"It was a heartwarming event," he said. "The local residents, Arabs and Jews, welcome the holidays and the tourism. We want to see a tourism city here. Only hostile elements, anarchists who come here to create damage, schism and hostility, disrupt the coexistence here. The government must end their activity and remove them from here, and then there will be peace."
Right-wing activist Baruch Marzel, who is considered the founder of tourism to the city of Jewish forefathers, noted that "the faith of tens of thousands of Jews from all around the world in Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs shows that the people of Israel cannot be disconnected from their forefathers and roots."
'People of Israel arriving in masses'
Orit Struck, one of the leaders of the Hebron Jewish community, said new and diverse populations visited the city this year after overcoming fears and transportation difficulties.
"Thanks to the revolution which Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and MK Uri Maklev were involved in, we have the pleasure of seeing them here," she said. "Among the visitors were deprived people, who used public transportation to get here.
"We also got to see many traditional and even secular visitors, alongside diverse religious populations without any ideological connection. I am very moved to see just how connected the people of Israel are to this place, and how fundamental Hebron is for such large publics. For me, as a Hebron resident, it’s the essence of life.
Visitors touring city (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
"All the difficulties we face here on a daily basis in order to maintain this holy place for the people of Israel become worthwhile when we see the people of Israel arriving here in masses," Struck added.
"This is something which doesn't exist in Shechem (Nablus) and unfortunately not in Bethlehem either, and it's made possible only because we live here despite all the difficulties. And for that we must say, 'Our efforts are rewarded.'"
The Hebron Jewish community's coordinator, Ashi Horowitz, who organized the event, said that more than 35,000 visited the city on Thursday and some 20,000 arrived on Wednesday.
"In total, we enjoyed the presence of more than 50,000 visitors, and this is really heartwarming," he said.
Earlier Thursday, more than 50,000 worshippers arrived at the Western Wall plaza for the Morning Prayer and tradition priestly blessing, which was attended by Israel's chief rabbis.
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