Daily Israel Report

Egypt to Block Jewish Pilgrims From Holy Site

Egypt's post-Mubarak government has decided it would not be 'appropriate' for Israelis to visit the grave of a famed 19th century rabbi
By Gabe Kahn
First Publish: 6/27/2012, 10:38 PM

Sinai Security Barrier Construction
Sinai Security Barrier Construction
Reuters

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.

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, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Wednesday's announcement came as Muslim Brotherhood activists mobilized to block the pilgrimage route.

Ceremonies at the tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzeira have triggered yearly political sparring in Egypt throughout most of the last decade.

An Islamist politician involved in organizing protests against the march meanwhile said that visiting the gravesite in the village of Daymouta, 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of Cairo would be a “suicide mission” for Israelis.

“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.

Egypt’s daily Al-Ahram newspaper reported Tuesday that 31 parties and groups had joined this year’s campaign to block Israeli pilgrims from reaching the site.

A son to a chief rabbi of Morocco, Yaakov Abuchatzeira 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.

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.

In 2009, Egypt officially denied the pilgrims entry because the anniversary fell while Israel was conducing an offensive in Gaza.