The residents of the southern Israeli city of Eilat are shocked at a plan by the municipality to establish a monument in the heart of the city’s downtown to commemorate Arab pilgrims to Mecca.
The monument is planned for Eilat’s Shahamon Square.
Moshe Yosef, a resident of Eilat and a former city employee, claimed that the venture is jointly funded by the Municipality of Eilat and the Housing Ministry.
“This grandiose plan would include construction of lit metal statues of people wearing djellabas,” Yosef told Arutz Sheva’s Hebrew-language news service on Thursday. “The monument will include an observation terrace with a bench, decorative lighting and a circular pergola. The statues will be visible from the terrace. There will also be images and signs to explain to residents and tourists about the Muslim history of the place.”
He added that the plan has left the city’s residents stunned.
“I’ve lived here for 41 years and this is a central square in the city,” Yosef said. “All the military vehicles which come to Eilat from the local military bases travel through this square. Sports events are held here every evening, and residents walk, run, and ride their bicycle in the area. All of it is going to soon be in the shadow of this project.”
The project would in essence be recreating the Darb el Hajj or “Pilgrim’s Road”. The road was used by Arab pilgrims to go to Mecca and it ran from Africa through Egypt to Mecca, passing from the west at Eilat.
“It’s surreal to invest millions of dollars on a project to commemorate the immigrants from Mecca,” added Yosef. “The last time they went to Mecca via Eilat, at least according to what is written in the project, was in 1883.”
He added that just as the Arab city of Umm el-Fahm would not think to perpetuate the Jewish pilgrims to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, it is inconceivable that Eilat would perpetuate the pilgrims to Mecca.
“They should perpetuate the Negev Brigade and the conquest of Eilat,” he said. “People here are really stunned; the city is in turmoil, no one believes what is happening.”
A press release distributed Thursday by the Eilat municipality said that in light of residents’ requests, Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi has asked the Housing Ministry’s Southern District Director to name the monument “The Path of Peace” rather than “The Path of Rejoicing” as originally planned.
The statement also noted that the request was accepted and that the necessary adjustments pursuant to the decision will be made, including separating the square from the monument project. The square itself will be redesigned regardless of the project, said the statement, and will include construction of a lookout point which will overlook the entire city.
The Housing Ministry confirmed in response to Arutz Sheva’s inquiry that the monument’s purpose is to commemorate the pilgrims.
“We do not think that we should erase the history of a place because of differences in religions,” the Ministry said. “Just as we oppose the destruction of synagogues in foreign countries and appreciate and are pleased when they are perpetuated, we will not refrain from perpetuating a historical site related to Islam. Ultimately, the place is designed to be a tourist attraction which will bring more visitors to the city of Eilat.”