Aaron’s tomb in Jordan to reopen to Israelis; ‘religious’ ceremony led to ban

After Rivlin’s talks with Jordanian prince, president informs FM about progress at pilgrimage site, which was barred to Israelis after August incident

Aaron's Tomb near Petra, Jordan. (CC BY-SA Joneikifi, Wikipedia)
Aaron's Tomb near Petra, Jordan. (CC BY-SA Joneikifi, Wikipedia)

President Reuven Rivlin announced Sunday that Jordan will reopen the Aaron’s Tomb pilgrimage site to Israeli tourists, following his talks with Jordanian officials to jointly promote religious sites.

In a statement from his office, Rivlin said he updated Foreign Minister Israel Katz on the development, which came after his meeting last week with Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed in London.

“The president asked the minister to instruct the relevant authorities to continue coordinating the issue according to understandings that will allow groups to visit the site in prior coordination and with on-site guides and security,” the statement said.

Rivlin, who was on a working visit to London, met with Jordanian officials to discuss a “number of issues,” including the development of Christian holy sites along the Jordan River, which flows along the border between the two countries, the President’s Office said last week.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks during the Climate Conference in Tel Aviv, on November 24, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Aaron’s Tomb site was closed to Jewish pilgrims in August, over a video that appeared to show Israelis praying there. At the time, Jordan said several hundred Israelis arrived in Petra, without prior coordination or permission to pray at the site. According to Jordanian media, the visitors held “talmudic religious ceremonies” at the tomb.

An Israeli tour guide leading the group denied the tourists had been praying and said the visit had been coordinated.

The pilgrims were in Jordan to visit the Tomb of Aaron, the biblical high priest and brother of Moses, who tradition maintains is buried on Mount Hor, near Petra, at a site known locally as Jabal Haroun.

Israeli tourists at Aaron’s Tomb in Jordan on August 1, 2019. (Courtesy of Roni Ayalon)

While some Jews believe Aaron was buried on the mountain, others have expressed doubt that his tomb is located there. Muslims also revere Aaron and consider him to be a prophet.

Jordanian reports in August, cited by Hebrew-language media, said that Waqf Minister Abdul Nasser Musa Abu al-Basal, who controls Islamic affairs and holy sites, made the decision after a video circulated online of Jewish pilgrims praying at Aaron’s Tomb.

Rony Ayalon, a tour guide with the Israeli group, asserted that the group had coordinated its visit in advance. He also claimed Jordanian authorities treated the tourists in a humiliating manner without provocation, a treatment that began at the border.

Ayalon said the group did not pray at the site. Rather, he said, members of the group began singing to a boy in the group to celebrate his bar mitzvah. Jordanian policemen at the site apparently thought this was a prayer and closed the site, he said.

However, a video that circulated on social media did show several people in the midst of what appeared to be prayer inside the tomb.

In 2017, Jordanian police threatened a group of Israeli tourists at the tomb that they risked being jailed if they prayed anywhere in the country, an Israeli official has said.

While security ties between Israel and Jordan have flourished, political relations have soured recently over a number of matters, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge in September to annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, if he is given another term in office.

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