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Beheira activists oppose Abu Hasira festival
Published in The Egyptian Gazette on 08 - 01 - 2013

Residents of Damatiuh village, near the Delta City of Damanhour in el-Beheira Governorate, struggle every year to prevent the festivities marking the birthday of a Jewish rabbi, whose tomb is located in the village.
In January every year, the Jews celebrate the moulid (an annual religious festival to mark the birthday of a saint or head of a religious order) of Abu Hasira, a 19th century Moroccan Jewish rabbi.
His mausoleum was built in the village of Damatiuh where he died while travelling to Jerusalem in the 1880s. Permission for Israelis to visit Abu Hasira's tomb has angered many in Egypt.
One of the villagers living near the tomb has expressed relief at the cancellation this year's of the annual festival.
“I'm so glad. Under Hosni Mubarak's regime, residents of the village had to endure house arrest during the festival, till the departure of the Jews from the village," Mohamed Kamal, a villager, says.
Kamal remembers the hard days he himself suffered in various prisons.
“On one such occasion, the soldiers in the [now-dissolved] State Security Agency, affiliated to the Interior Ministry, broke into my home, in order to protect the festival. After I objected to the soldiers' aggression on my home, they arrested me and held me prisoner for three days," he says.
The festival, due on January 9 to 10, starts on the anniversary of the death of Abu Hasira. The festival began when Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords in 1979.
Mohamed Abdel-Salam, a resident of Damatiuh, says that if the remains of Abu Hasira were transferred to Israel, there would no longer be a problem. “The Jews use this tomb as a pretext to disturb us," he told Al-Messa newspaper.
Following the January 25 Revolution, a group of youths from the village got hold of a forklift truck and drove it towards the tomb, planning to demolish it but village residents prevented them.
“Although the villagers are resentful and angry because of the presence of the tomb in their village, they prevented these youths from demolishing it," Abdel-Salam explained.
"The villagers don't want anything to happen that the Jews might exploit to defame our peaceful revolution," he added.
In the past, people from residents of el-Beheira collected 1 million signatures and filed several lawsuits against the festival.
In 2001, the Supreme Administrative Court issued a verdict that cancelled the celebration and annulled the decision of ex-culture minister Farouq Hosni for the shrine of Abu Hasira to be registered as a national heritage site. But the authorities failed to implement the court order.
In the meantime, Egypt's post-revolution officials have yet to express their attitude towards the festival.
"They haven't formally announced the cancellation of the festival and this is worrying to citizens. It's only the activists who are leading the campaign to have it cancelled," says Ali el-Sayyed, another villager.
"The youth started regular patrols last week to prevent Jews from entering the village. If they do turn up, we will physically prevent them from reaching the tomb," says activist Mohamed Allam, co-ordinator of the Beheira-based Youth Journalist Coalition.
However, another villager, Om Abada, blames the young activists for preventing the Jews from visiting the tomb.
"I benefit financially from the Jews, who used to come here, as they would buy lamb from us. The activists are hindering us from making a living," Om Abada, who owns a house near the tomb, explains.
The revolutionary coalitions and movements are ready to react at any moment.
"Members of all revolutionary movements and activist groups will not permit the Jews to run the festival," says Gamal Moneeb, co-ordinator of the ‘You Will Not Cross My Land' movement.
"Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hasira is the grandfather of Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, or the Baba Sali, the noted kabbalist who died in 1984 and whose own grave in Netivot, Israel, is also revered by Jews.
“Why don't the authorities transfer the remains of Abu Hasira to Netivot, to be united with his grandson's?" asks Alaa el-Khayyam, Secretary of the Justice Party in el-Beheira.

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