by David E. Miller | December 28, 2010
Hebrew signs reading "death to the Jews" greeted Israeli pilgrims who came to the Egyptian Nile Delta village of Damtu to commemorate the annual anniversary of death of a 19th-century rabbi.
Visitors to site are greeted by signs in Hebrew declaring ’death to Jews’
Some 550 Israelis arrived Monday at the mausoleum of Rabbi Yaakov Abu-Hasira, a revered Moroccan rabbi, who died in Egypt in 1880 en route to the land of Israel. But 3,000 Egyptian security personnel cordoned the village, closing down local businesses for the day.
Last year, Egyptian President Husni Mubarak allowed Israeli pilgrims to enter Egypt, responding to a personal request by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Pilgrims had been refused entry the previous year, when the anniversary fell immediately after Israel's Cast Lead offensive on the Gaza Strip, and Egyptian security officials agued they couldn’t ensure the safety of Israelis in the country.
But Egyptian opposition parties said the event shouldn’t pass quietly this year either. The local chapter of the Nasserist Party launched a campaign titled "You shall not pass on my land," calling on the government to disallow the presence of "Zionists" in Egypt.
"I welcome Jews from all parts of the world in my home and I will be their servant," Gamal Munib, secretary-general of the Nasserists and coordinator of the campaign, told The Media Line. "But I refuse to welcome Zionists, who killed Egyptian prisoners of war and are killing my brothers in Palestine."
Munib said his party convened an anti-Zionist meeting Monday night, and was organizing a protest vigil on Thursday across from Damanhour's municipal court with the participation of "all national forces.”
The burial site wasn’t identified as Jewish until 1996, when it began being developed, Munib added. The Nasserist Party petitioned the court to declare the area isn’t a historic site, a move that would ban the annual Jewish festivities he said included the drinking of alcohol. In 2001, the court accepted the appeal.
Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) won and overwhelming majority of the seats in Egypt's parliamentary elections November 28. Opposition groups and international observers accused the regime of widespread election fraud and a violent crackdown on opposition activists.
Munib said Mubarak's regime was ignoring the court ruling and allowing Zionists to enter Egypt in order to buy the world's silence regarding his election fraud and plans to bequeath the regime to his son, Gamal.
"When elections were falsified in Iran the world was in an uproar, but Europe remained silent about election fraud in Egypt, which was a thousand times worse," he said. "I simply can't understand the European criteria on this matter."
Another grassroots campaign, the coalition of "Bloggers against Abu-Hasira", sharply criticized the government and called for the arrest of the Egyptian official who allowed the festivities to take place.
"It isn’t surprising that the regime, which falsified the will of the Egyptian people, would allow the Zionist regime to trample the will of Egypt, its laws and its constitution with recurring visits throughout the year, and especially during December," the coalition told the Egyptian daily Al-Yom A-Sabi'.
In January, the Egyptian state prosecutor charged a local armed group with plans to bomb Abu-Hasira's mausoleum during the annual festivities as well as American ships in the Suez Canal, the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yom reported.
Yaakov Yehudayoff, a Jerusalem resident and Abu-Hasira's great great-grandson, has been visiting the grave in Egypt since 1988. He said that Egyptian authorities repeatedly amounted difficulties on Israeli pilgrims.
"We've never encountered hatred, but you can tell from their faces that they don't like us there," he told The Media Line. "At the grave itself they take our cell phones, our alcoholic beverages, and act very aggressively."
Yehudayoff added that Egypt often denied entry visas to Israeli pilgrims. "Last year they refused 180 applications after we had already booked an airplane," he said.
Yehudayoff denied allegations that pilgrims were trying to take over Egypt. He said that Abu-Hasira was buried in a small Jewish cemetery on land owned by the local Jewish community.
When Israel and Egypt signed the Camp David peace accords in 1978, Israeli Minister of Religious Affairs Aharon Abu-Hasira, a relative of the deceased rabbi, requested that his remains be moved to Israel. But the rabbi's grandson, the renowned Rabbi Israel Abu-Hasira, also known as Baba-Sali, refused.
"According to the historic account, a week before his death Rabbi Yaakov Abu-Hasira told the community in Egypt that he is about to die. They wanted to bring him to Alexandria, but he said 'the soul will go to its resting place, but the body shall remain here," Yehudayoff said.