JERICHO (Nov. 16)
About 300 Israeli Arabs returned today from their first pilgrimage to Mecca since 1948. They reported that at least three of their people died en route. They were weary and not too pleased. This year, for the first time, Arab citizens of Israel were allowed by the Saudi authorities to visit the holy place of Islam.
At the end of last month, some 3000 Israeli Arabs had left for Mecca, many of them elderly people. During the three-week journey the pilgrims spent days on buses, slept out of doors, had no medical attention and were charged exorbitant prices for minimum services, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was told by Mohammad Sa’id Kassem, one of the pilgrims. A bottle of plain water was sold for $1; an egg for 30 cents. They said they had heard that the Saudi authorities were not going to charge them the special pilgrimage tax of some $135, but the tax was levied by the travel company even before they left and they did not know whether they would be reimbursed.
The Jordanians, whose country the pilgrims crossed en route to Saudi Arabia, apparently were not very hospitable either. On the return trip, many of the pilgrims wanted to visit relatives in Amman. But according to those arriving today only a few were allowed to do so. They were all assembled on the Jordanian side of the Allenby Bridge, waiting to cross the bridge back home. Contrary to an agreement with Israel that they would give a 48-hour notice, the Jordanian authorities opened the bridge allowing hundreds of pilgrims to cross at once to the Israeli side.
The Israelis were caught by surprise. Dr. Moshe Sharon, Arab Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister, heard of the returning pilgrims only at midday and had to rush to organize buses to transport them to their homes. More pilgrims arrived tonight.