President Shimon Peres did not make his annual visit to the Druze holy site Neby Shoaib in honor of the Druze pilgrimage there, scheduled for Friday, because of tensions between Israel and the Druze community.
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Druze traditionally make pilgrimage to the tomb of Neby Shoaib — or the biblical prophet Jethro, Moses’ father in law — at the end of April and hold a large celebration at the site not far from the city of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee.
The Druze Religious Council announced on Thursday that Peres’ invitation was canceled due to the growing unrest among the Druze due to a number of issues on which the state has been “blatantly ignoring its only allies, and out of the fear the President will be the focus of a protest demonstration planned there.”
The Druze community is particularly upset about the convictions of 16 Druze sheikhs, including former MK Said Nafa (Balad), in Nazareth District Court in April of visiting enemy states. The sheikhs allegedly went to see relatives and Druze religious sites in Syria between 2007 and 2010.
Sheikh Muwaffak Tarif, the spiritual leader of Israel’s Druze community, said the decision was not directed at Peres personally, as he is very respected by the Druze, and that he will invite Peres for a visit at a later date. Tarif said he expected Peres to intervene in the case of the sheikhs and pardon them, as their convictions are threatening the covenant between the Druze and the state.
This year, the height of the festivities for the four-day pilgrimage holiday take place on Friday. The holiday is the most important of the year for Israel's 130,000 Druze, and tens of thousands of them travel to Neby Shoaib.
The President’s Residence said the decision to cancel Peres's visit was made in consultation with it in light of fears of riots at the site because of the conviction of the sheikhs.