Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Egyptians oppose Jewish pilgrimage to Nile Delta

Local Egyptians 'outraged at Israel's treatment of Gaza' have voiced their opposition to the hundreds of Jewish visitors who make the annual pilgrimage to the Nile Delta tomb of Abu Hassira, a 19th century Jewish holy man from Morocco. It has escaped their notice, no doubt, that Gaza not only has a border with Egypt, but that Egypt has on occasion refused to let Gazan pilgrims returning from their Hajj to Mecca, go home. (Via Women's Lens)

Campaigners are hoping to collect a million signatures to have the Egyptian government cancel the festivities altogether, according to this Medialine report, picked up in the Jerusalem Post. "Every year they complain", says an organiser. So far 260 have booked to attend the pilgrimage, which takes place on the rabbi's birthday of 14 January 2009.

The International Press Service reports:

CAIRO, Dec 9 (IPS) - Jews from around the world come annually to Egypt to celebrate the birth anniversary of Abu Hassira, a 19th century holy man buried in the Nile Delta. But many local people oppose the celebrations, and this year particularly because of Israel's ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip.

"The people of Demito, and Egyptians in general, adamantly reject this festival," Moustafa Raslan, a lawyer who has campaigned since 1995 to ban the event, told IPS. "Why should Egypt host Israeli Jews while Israel starves Gaza and murders Palestinians on a regular basis?"

Abu Hassira, a Moroccan Jew who was believed to work miracles, came to Egypt in the 19th century. He settled in the Nile Delta village Demito in the modern province of Beheira, roughly 150 km north of Cairo. He died there in 1880.

Ever since the signing of the Egypt-Israel Camp David Peace Agreement in 1979, religious Jews have converged on Demito every year in rising numbers on the birth anniversary. Running from late December into the first week of January, the festival draws Jewish visitors from around the world, including the U.S., Morocco and -- more contentiously -- Israel.

"In the early 1980s, only a couple of dozen Jewish pilgrims would come to the tomb of Abu Hassira, but they soon began coming in the hundreds," Mohie Durbuk, a lawyer from the nearby city Demenhour told IPS. "In recent years, the number has reached about 4,000."

Durbuk said visitors have included major rabbinic figures and high-level Israeli government officials.

The festival has usually met with a cold reception from both Demito residents and the wider public, who -- like much of the Arab world -- continue to be outraged by Israel's harsh treatment of Palestinian people.

Local residents also resent the draconian security measures that accompany the event, which they say cause considerable inconvenience.

"From one week before the festival until its conclusion, the authorities vastly step up the security presence in and around the village," said Durbuk. "A strict curfew is enforced throughout Demito from 6pm until 6am, during which time local people aren't allowed to leave their homes."

Critics also point out that the size of the compound housing Abu Hassira's tomb has been significantly -- if gradually -- enlarged over the last three decades.

"Originally, the mausoleum compound only occupied some 350 square metres," said Durbuk. "But in the last 30 years, it's been slowly enlarged, and now sits on more than 8,000 square metres of government land. Egyptians are barred from approaching the site all year round."

Durbuk said Jewish visitors have made several offers to purchase land adjacent to the tomb. "They tried to buy land from local families, in some cases offering more than 100 times the going rate," said Durbuk. "But all these offers were turned down."

Read article in full


Anonymous said...

It looks as though modern Egyptians are behaving much like their Pharaoh before them: they're upset that the Jews are becoming too "numerous." They're also unconcerned about Egypt's treatment of its Jewish and (likely) Coptic minorities.

Anonymous said...

'Egyptians are barred from approaching the site all year round.'

thank god, but i can't blame the ignorant people, it's their media and clergy that imbue them with venom. the people of behera are just simple farmers.