'They removed prayer shawls, tefillin, skullcaps, tzitzit'

Jordanian police threaten to jail Israeli pilgrims for praying

Warning to visitors at Aaron’s Tomb comes as tensions between countries skyrocket over stabbing at Israeli Embassy

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

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

Jordanian police threatened a group of Israeli tourists that they would risk being jailed if they prayed anywhere in the country, an Israeli official said Monday.

The tourists 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.

“It emerged that they were not allowed [to show] any religious symbols,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel. He said the incident occurred either Sunday or Monday.

One of the tourists, Rabbi Menashe Zelicha of Bnei Brak, said the police officers told his group that “in all of Jordan it is forbidden for Jews to pray.”

“We are not allowed to pray in the morning, no tefillin, no prayer shawls, nothing – we cannot pray, even in the hotel, even inside our room,” Zelicha told the Kol Chai radio station. “Policemen came into the hotel and were shouting and went wild, saying that in a minute they would take us out of Jordan if we made even a tiny squeak. They told us, ‘Whoever prays will be taken to jail.'”

Zelicha said that when his group went through the border crossing, authorities “began checking the suitcase and checking everything. They refused to let us bring in books. They removed the prayer shawls, the tefillin; they removed one person’s tzitzit.

“One guy had on him a driving written test booklet, they took it. They took people’s skullcaps. People were left with only their shirt and trousers.”

Israeli diplomats stationed in Jordan asked the tourists to “lower their profile and to listen to instructions from the police,” Nahshon said.

The Israelis were also advised to leave the country sooner than they had planned, given the tense situation in Israel and the West Bank in the wake of a July 14 shooting attack at the Temple Mount, as well as the stabbing attack on an Israeli security guard and death of two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy compound in Jordan on Sunday.

Jordanian authorities did not respond to requests to comment on the report, but a diplomat said Jordanian officials warning Jewish pilgrims to keep a low profile was not uncommon. In the past, Israelis have complained that border officials prevented them from crossing with tefillin and prayer shawls.

Jordanian security forces stand guard outside the Israeli embassy in the residential Rabiyeh neighborhood of the capital Amman on July 23, 2017. (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)
Jordanian security forces stand guard outside the Israeli embassy in the residential Rabiyeh neighborhood of the capital Amman on July 23, 2017. (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)

On Sunday, an Israeli security official working at the Israeli Embassy in Amman was attacked by a Jordanian worker. In what Israeli officials said was self-defense, he killed the 19-year-old attacker and wounded another Jordanian national, who later died from his wounds.

The Israeli security guard, who was injured during the attack, enjoys diplomatic immunity according to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and is safe from arrest and investigation, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday morning.

However, Jordanian authorities are said to be preventing the man from leaving, and reportedly want to question him in their investigation into the matter. The family of the first Jordanian victim, 17-year-old Mohammed Jawawdeh, said that Jawawdeh was murdered in cold blood, with one family member telling Jordanian television that “We will follow the investigation along with the government leaders until we get our rights, so that this criminal is put to death.”

The second man was named as Bashar Hamarneh.

The Israeli security guard and his colleagues are being held in the Israeli Embassy compound, according to Israel’s Channel 2 news.

The shooting came amid already high tensions with Jordan over metal detectors set up at the Temple Mount following a shooting attack July 14 by three Israeli Arabs who stashed guns at the holy site.

Jordan, which plays a key role in administering Muslim sites in the compound, has vehemently objected to the new Israeli security measures.

Israel is reportedly in talks with Jordan on ways to defuse the crisis.

Jordanians shout slogans during a demonstration in Amman on July 21, 2017, protesting against new Israeli security measures implemented at the Temple Mount. (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)
Jordanians shout slogans during a demonstration in Amman on July 21, 2017, protesting against new Israeli security measures implemented at the Temple Mount. (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)

Jordan angered Israel last week after its parliament praised the three terrorists who carried out the July 14 attack, even though King Abdullah II condemned it.

The parliament also criticized Israel for closing the Temple Mount, and prayed for the souls of the three terrorists.

Hundreds of people have taken part in recent protests against Israel in Jordan, which has a large Palestinian population.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place for Jews, as the site of the biblical temples. It is the third holiest site in Islam, where it is known as the Noble Sanctuary or Al-Aqsa compound, as the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

It is administered by the Waqf trust, which is entirely controlled and funded by the Jordanian government, while Israel is in charge of maintaining security.

In light of the diplomatic crisis, Israel’s security cabinet was set to meet on Monday afternoon to discuss the matter. Overnight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone with the security officers and with Israel’s ambassador to Jordan, Einat Schlein.

He was also set to speak with Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Monday in order to try and put an end to the growing diplomatic rift between the two countries.

The incident occurred late Sunday afternoon, but was kept under gag order by the Israeli military censor for some 11 hours until Monday morning, preventing Israeli media from reporting it even as it made headlines around the world.

The Israeli security guard, whose name is still subject to a gag order, had some furniture removed at his apartment adjacent to the Israeli embassy in the residential Rabiyeh neighborhood of Amman, when the Jordanian worker allegedly stabbed him in the back with a screwdriver.

“The security officers responded on the self-defense. He was lightly injured,” a Foreign Ministry statement read. “The worker was killed. During the incident, the owners [of the apartment, who was present] was injured and later died from his wounds.”

Additional details about the incident were still under a gag order.

Dov Lieber, Times of Israel and staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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