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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Jordanian Christians visiting Jerusalem for Easter under threat

Remember the absurd Reuters article that implied that Israel was doing everything it could to discourage Arab Christians from visiting Jerusalem, and that Israeli policies were keeping Christians from Arab countries away?

From The Christian Science Monitor:
Many of the Arab Christians flocking to holy sites in Israel this Easter Sunday come from neighboring Jordan.

But they do so at a price.

Those who make the trek – and, as part of a broader rise in religious tourism, more are making it every year – risk their professional reputation and their family’s disapproval.

For a country whose 1994 peace treaty with Israel was never accepted at the popular level, receiving an entry stamp, let alone a visa from Israel, is considered “treason” to the Arab cause.

But despite a growing movement to discredit those involved with the “Zionist enemy,” hundreds of Jordanians risk their careers and reputation to complete a pilgrimage to holy sites in Israel’s occupied territories.

“I cannot help it,” says Daoud Yazeed, a Jordanian Christian who disguises his pilgrimages as business trips. “Jerusalem is calling.”

In 2009, 15,000 Jordanians traveled to Israel, the most of any Arab or Muslim country. While a majority of them were visiting Palestinian relatives, a significant number are part of a growing trend of religious tourism.

According to tour operators, an increasing number of Jordanian Christians and Muslims – Jerusalem is Islam’s third holiest city – are taking part in all-inclusive week-long trips through Nazareth, Hebron, and Jerusalem, priced at $600.

But under the Anti-Normalization movement, spearheaded by Islamists and professional associations opposed to Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty – or “normalization” with Israel – those found to have normalized are disbarred from their union and lose their professional licenses, which are required by Jordanian law.

Families further face the public humiliation of being added to a once-publicized blacklist of individuals and companies that deal with the “Zionist entity.”
'Anti-normalization' activists

Anti-Normalization activists are determined to crack down on the practice this holiday to bring to light those who have “normalized with the enemy,” according to Muslim Brotherhood and National Anti- Normalization Committee leader Hamzah Mansour.

“This is supporting Zionist efforts to rid the holy lands and Palestine of its inhabitants, and it is forbidden,” he said.

He compared trips to Jerusalem to the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca which is considered the duty of every adult Muslim, pointing out that the journey is not required if a worshiper has poor health or a lack of money.

“Al Aqsa is occupied territory and you are not expected to pilgrimage to Al Aqsa. God understands,” Mr. Mansour said, calling on Jordanian Christians to pray in local holy sites this Easter to “support the local industry.”

According to the professional associations, they have yet to revoke union memberships over normalization. But the threat itself has deterred hundreds, if not thousands, from making the trip, or pushed their travel into secret, tour operators say.

Normalization, however, was the last of the concerns for Ramzi Mustafa, one of 200 Christian pilgrims from Egypt – the only other Arab country that has made peace with Israel – in the holy city this weekend with organized tour groups.

He said his participation in processions on Via Dolorosa on Good Friday is a way of showing support for the Palestinians and the need for peace, not support for “Zionism.”

And what do the Arabs of Jerusalem think about all this?
Nor do Muslim pilgrimages suggest support for occupation, says the head of Jerusalem’s holy sites, Sheikh Mohamed Azzam Tamimi.

"Jordanians and Egyptians, all Arabs should come and see the holy city,” he said, noting that due to visa restrictions most of the visitors are from Asia, not the Arab world. “We may be under occupation, but supporting our efforts is not normalization.”

Politics should not prevent Arab Christians and Muslims from traveling to the holy city, according to William Shomali, auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, who welcomed all Arabs to take part in Easter services.

“Our dream is for all Arab Christians and Muslims to come and pray in the holy city,” he said, acknowledging the current situation has been “difficult” for Arab Christians across the region.

“They should come regardless of the political situation,” he said. “We should separate politics from religion, even if certain parties want to join them together; all have the right to pray in the holy sites.”
The Islamists in Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere threaten those who want to come to Jerusalem for any reason - religious or to give cultural support for Palestinian Arabs. The PalArabs who they pretend to be supporting are unanimous in their desire for the visitors, even if they get an Israeli visa stamp.

It just goes to show once again that the people who pretend to care about Palestinian Arabs really only care about hating Israel, not supporting their Palestinian brethren.

It also shows that Israel welcomes these Arabs into the country, and it indicates that Israel is much more interested in freedom of religion for the holy sites under its control than Arab nations ever were.

By way of example, some 105,000 visitors were expected in Jerusalem this week, as opposed to the 10,000 or less that would come during Holy Week before the Six Day War. Any implication that Israeli policies have reduced the number of religious visitors to Jerusalem (as the Reuters article implied) is not only a lie, but an egregious lie.