W. Bank village mayor: Halt Jewish pilgrimage over defiled cemetery

The mayor of a Palestinian village on Monday called for the end of pilgrimages by Jewish groups to a holy site in his village after the desecration of Muslim graves last week.

Ahmed Bouzia, mayor of Kifl Hares in the northern West Bank, said villagers discovered the desecration Friday morning after 1,300 Jewish pilgrims came there to pray with Israeli army protection the night before. Nine tombstones were damaged, he said – some broken and others bearing graffiti like Death to Arabs and Revenge

Israel Edri, spokesman for the pilgrims group, criticized the desecration, adding that members of his group saw some suspicious people in the cemetery but were unable to catch them. They could have been settlers who sneaked in with the group or even Palestinians, Edri said.

There have been three large pilgrimages to this site, which settlers believe to be the graves of biblical figures Joshua and Caleb, since February, Bouzia said, but smaller groups of armed settlers come more frequently.

Village feelings were further ruffled when Israeli soldiers returned early Sunday morning with pilgrimage organizers to fix the damaged graves and paint over graffiti.

“This was desecration on top of desecration,” Bouzia said, “adding that Muslim graves can be repaired only by Muslims.” The village leaders are planning to consult with Islamic authorities on how to restore the graves.

The village filed a complaint Sunday with Israeli police in Ariel, the Jewish settlement next to Kifl Hares. Bouzia warned that his villagers would confront future pilgrimages, and that this could cause serious friction between the residents and the settlers.