Jordan to reopen Aaron’s Tomb after closure over alleged Jewish praying there

Jordanian minister had accused group of Israelis of holding illegal service at site after video circulated on social media, stoking outrage

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

Jordan on Friday announced it would reopen Aaron’s Tomb to tourists, after shuttering the site last week over a video that appeared to show Israelis praying there.

A statement issued by Jordan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs said the shrine was again open to visitors, but made no mention of the issue of Jewish prayer.

It did, however, call on visitors to obey all rules and regulations at the shrine, noting that it is in a remote, difficult to reach location. The statement also warned against visiting the site without a permit.

Last week, Jordanian Waqf Minister Abdul Nasser Musa Abu al-Basal, who controls Islamic affairs and holy sites, announced the closure of Aaron’s Tomb over what he called an illegal prayer service there by Jewish pilgrims.

The minister 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 that tourists had been praying and said the visit had been coordinated.

The pilgrims were in Jordan to visit the supposed grave of Aaron, a 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.

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

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

Roni Ayalon, a tour guide who was with the Israelis, asserted that the group had coordinated its visit in advance. He also claimed Jordanian authorities treated the tourists in a humiliating manner without provocation, which 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.

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

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

Meanwhile, Suleiman Farajat, Chief Commissioner for the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority, told Al Mamlaka TV that 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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