JERUSALEM (Nov. 15)
Four Israeli Arab Moslems left for Mecca, Saudi Arabia today on what was the first pilgrimage by citizens of Israel to the holiest shrine of Islam. The four–three Kadis (religious judges) and the director of Moslem broadcasts of the Israel Broadcasting Authority–comprised a delegation rather than a pilgrimage. They are expected to discuss with the Saudi authorities arrangements for a mass pilgrimage of Israeli Arabs to Mecca next year.
Their journey culminated months of negotiations in which the Jordanian government served as intermediary between the representatives of Israel’s Moslem community and the Saudis. Saudi Arabia heretofore has refused to admit any citizens of Israel to its territory regardless of their faith. Permission was granted finally only last week, too late to organize a large-scale pilgrimage because the traditional pilgrimage season will soon end.
According to Dr. Moshe Sharon, Premier Menachem Begin’s advisor on Arab affairs, the Saudis wanted to appear to be liberalizing their policy but dragged their feet to make sure that no mass pilgrimage from Israel will occur this year. But Yisrael Lippel, director general of the Religious Affairs Ministry, who escorted the four Moslems to the Allenby Bridge today, said he hoped their trip would mark the opening of Saudi Arabia to Israeli Arabs and indeed the entire Arab world to visits by Jewish tourists from Israel.
The delegates are traveling to Saudi Arabia via Jordan on laissez passer issued by Israel. They were issued temporary Jordanian passports in order to enter Saudi Arabia because the Saudis will not admit bearers of Israeli passports. The group was driven to Amman to board a plane for Jeddah. They are expected to return to Israel in 10 days.
One potential member of the delegation remained behind. Dr. Subhi Abu Gosh, an official of the Religious Affairs Ministry, complained that the government financed only half the expenses of the trip. He said the government should have paid the full cost from money raised by Moslem trust property it holds. The government said that according to Moslem law, a pilgrim must pay his own way to Mecca.