Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira
Rabbi Yaakov AbuhatzeiraIsrael news photo: courtesy of artist Faris Knight

Egyptians plan to block Israelis from making their annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira. The country's Islamist parties and other activists vowed last week to put an end to Jews visiting the grave site of the 19th centry rabbi, son of a chief rabbi of Morocco and known among Jews to be a Kabbalist.

Rabbi Abuhatzeira was elderly when he became ill and died near Alexandria while traveling in 1879 from Morocco to the Holy Land. According to tradition, his followers attempted three times to move his body from Egypt -- but each time, heavy storms blocked the effort. The tomb is located in the village of Daymouta in the Nile Delta, about 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of Cairo.

The peace treaty signed between the two countries in 1979 should have allowed Israeli Jews to travel freely to pray at the grave site and to mark the day of the rabbi's passing, but the privilege has been allowed sporadically at best.

Egyptians have consistently opposed allowing Jews to travel on pilgrimage to the site, and there have been repeated demonstrations and court orders banning the ceremony to mark the day of the rabbi's passing.

"Normalization with Israel is forced on the people [of Egypt] and the visits also come against the will of the people and despite popular rejection," explained newly-elected Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarian Gamal Heshmat.

According to a report published Tuesday in the Egyptian daily Al Ahram newspaper, 31 different political and other groups have banded together to block the pilgrimage.

Abraham Cooper of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center warned in a statement Tuesday the once-outlawed Islamist Muslim Brotherhood was trying to "curb religious freedom of Jews," adding, "In their world view, there is no respect for the traditions of Jews, dead or alive."

The Muslim Brotherhood was the biggest winner in the three-phase parliamentary elections recently held in Egypt. Presidential balloting is scheduled for June.