An ultra-Orthodox Israeli family that crossed the border into Jordan Wednesday night was returned Thursday afternoon to Israel, where its members were promptly detained for questioning by the Eilat police.
According to Channel 10, initial questioning revealed that — contrary to early speculation that they had accidentally wandered into the neighboring country while hiking — the family had intentionally entered Jordan in an attempt to circumvent a court order, sought by the father’s family, forbidding them to leave Israel.
The Beit Shemesh family, it emerged, was on its way to Canada, where the parents, with their six children, planned to join fellow members of an extremist cult based in a small town in Quebec.
The cult, Lev Tahor (Pure Heart) numbers around 250 people, including 100 children. It is led by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, a 50-year-old Israeli, who according to reports uses extreme violence and mind-control methods to manipulate his followers.
The family members were placed under arrest upon arrival in Jordan and were returned to Israel following contact between the IDF and Foreign Ministry and the Jordanian authorities.
The incident occurred at a time of tension in Israeli-Jordanian relations, though security coordination between the two countries is good, Israeli military sources say.
Two weeks ago, the Jordanian Parliament voted unanimously in favor of petitioning the government to expel Israel’s ambassador in Amman and recall Jordan’s ambassador in Tel Aviv in protest of alleged Israeli desecration of holy sites in Jerusalem.
And last month, a majority of Jordan’s parliament petitioned the government to pardon the Jordanian soldier who murdered seven Israeli schoolgirls during a school trip at the border in 1997. A source in the Jordanian parliament said King Abdullah did not intend to grand the request to free Ahmad Musa Mustafa Daqamseh, who is serving life imprisonment with hard labor for the murders.
This weekend, the king is hosting a meeting of the World Economic Forum on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, to be attended by world and regional leaders, including a sizable Israeli delegation. President Shimon Peres is to travel to Jordan on Sunday to participate in a panel at the conference, and may meet with the king, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, other Arab leaders, and US Secretary of State John Kerry.