Jordan shuts holy site after Israelis visit, says they prayed without permission

Israeli tour guide denies lack of coordination, claims group was not praying, asserts tourists were treated humiliatingly

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

Jordan on Thursday closed Aaron’s Tomb to visitors without express permission to visit, after it said a group of Israeli pilgrims prayed at the holy site illegally.

According to Jordanian reports cited by Hebrew-language media, 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, saying it was an illegal prayer service.

Abu Basl told the Al Mamlaka TV, a state-funded channel, on Thursday that he decided to close the tomb following “Israeli violations” at the site and “the performance of rituals without the knowledge of the ministry.”

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 holds is buried on Mount Hor, near Petra, at a site known locally as Jabal Haroun.

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.

Jordan said several hundred Israelis arrived in Petra on Thursday, without prior coordination or permission to pray at the site. According to Jordanian media, the visitors held “Talmudic religious ceremonies” at the 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.

“They stripped everyone down. Women had their head coverings removed, men had their kippas taken off…anyone found with a religious characteristic had it confiscated,” Ayalon told the Ynet news site.

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.

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

Meanwhile an unnamed Jordanian source claimed to Ynet that the Israelis “entered without coordination and acted like hooligans.”

Some Jordanian social media users reacted to the photos and footage, expressing outrage that Israeli tourists would carry out religious rituals at the tomb.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry told Ynet it was in contact with Jordan and was investigating the incident.

Meanwhile Suleiman Farajat, Chief Commissioner for the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority, told state-funded Al Mamlaka TV Israeli tourism to the site will continue.

“Israeli tourists have been coming to Jordan since the 1990s…In terms of them coming as tourists, we will not prevent them. But we can prevent these religious practices and we will do just that… in the future [we] will stress that no religious practices be carried out except for Islamic ones, as the tomb is an Islamic mosque.”

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 said.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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