Following are excerpts from a TV report on the Berber community in the Siwa Oasis, Egypt. The report aired on Al-Jazeera TV, on November 5, 2010.
Dr. Ibrahim Nasser Al-Din, expert on African affairs: They invented a holiday, which they call the “tourism holiday” in Siwa. I suggest that you go there sometimes, and cover it. When there is a full moon in October, all the people of Siwa – men, women, boys and girls – go to the Mountain of Sidi Aghrudi [sic] and stay there for three days, to celebrate the tourism holiday.
During this three-day period, at least 20 Israeli buses join them on the Sidi Aghrudi mountain. I think this raises questions.
Interviewer: Is Israel trying to form ties with them during this holiday?
Dr. Ibrahim Nasser Al-Din: The Siwans are divided into Eastern and Western people. The Eastern Siwans have a more African look, while the Western Siwans look more European. One could compare this to the division between Eastern and Western Jews.
The fountain of immigrants to Israel has dried up. This is the first time that Zionist Judaism is trying to convert non-Jewish communities to Judaism – like the Falash Mura or the Igbo, in Nigeria...
Interviewer: Even though Judaism does not accept it...
Dr. Ibrahim Nasser Al-Din: It forbids it. Later, you find these people in the Border Guard.
Interviewer: What Border Guard?!
Dr. Ibrahim Nasser Al-Din: The Israeli Border Guard.
Omar Abdallah Rajeh, Sheik of the Awlad Musa Tribe: When a TV channel hosted an Egyptian academic, respected worldwide, and he talked about the relations between the Berbers and the Jews, the people of Siwa were shocked, because if you visit the Siwa Oasis you feel the love of the Siwans toward all the communities visiting there. But Jews are not to be found in this oasis. The oasis is open to everybody. When you go around the Siwa Oasis, your camera will show you the lack of truth in what is said about these people.
Foreigners visit Siwa, and the Siwans live in harmony with all the foreign tourists. But as for ties between the Siwans and the Jews – the Siwans were extremely affected by the Arab wound, and they will not accept any relations whatsoever with the Jews.
Muhammad Saleh, member of the Siwa Municipal Council: What Jews are you talking about, man? No, no. We will not accept them. We don’t want any foreigner coming here during the three days of the tourist holiday.
This is an ancient festival – since the days of our forefathers. It’s not a new thing. We’ve been celebrating these three days for over 150 years, and we don’t want any foreigners coming during this period. We are honored to have Egyptians and Arabs visiting – but not foreigners or Jews.
Siwan businessman Musa Umran Ahmad Saleh: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. We have no Jews here, and we know nothing about them. They have nothing to do here. There isn’t a single Jewish investor in Siwa, and no Jewish traders come to Siwa. We have no dealings whatsoever with the Jews.
Egyptian MP from Siwa Bilal Ahmad Bilal Issa: We view them as enemies. They occupied Egyptian lands, and after they left them, they are still occupying Palestine, which is also part of our land. All the people here think the same way, and this is why they despise the Israelis.
Omar Abdallah Rajeh: I am one of the people of Siwa, and one day, I drove my car to celebrate the tourist holiday. On the way, I came across a foreigner who was walking to the same place, so I picked him up. That is what Siwans are like – when they see a foreigner of a local, they take them.
I picked him up, and we started to talk. Just before we reached Dakrour Mountain I realized he was a Jew. So I stopped my car, and said to him: “Please get out, because our wounds are the wounds of all the Arabs, and our pain is the pain of all the Arabs.” That is what I did.
I love all the people of the world, but when I made him get out of the car, I wanted to show him that we are part of the Arab world, and we share the same joy and sorrow.
Siwan resident: The Jews have nothing to do with Siwa – not with the tourist holiday or anything else. We hate the Jews more than anything else in the world. We have nothing to do with them whatsoever. They are Jews and we are Muslims.
Siwan alternative therapist Sayyid Harum Ahmad: This sand treatment has been passed down from grandfather to father to son. This goes back more than 200 years – to the days of the Pharaohs – and we pass it down through the generations.
I don’t want to take the viewer back 200 or 150 years in time, so I will talk only about alternative therapy in Siwa. When you come for alternative treatment, I check you into the guest house, and then we begin the treatment. You eat a regular breakfast, and you stop eating at 10 o’clock. At 2 o’clock or 3:30, when the sun reaches the zenith, we call you from the guest house to the white sand. A ditch has been dug, a tent has been set up, and we start the treatment.
When the patient gets here, he takes off his clothes, covering his private parts, and we cover him up to his neck – like this. He sits in the sand for 10-15 minutes. When his nose goes red, it is a sign. He sits in the sand for 10-15 minutes, and the sand opens up his pores.
Then he enters the tent, and we give him fenugreek seeds. He sits in the tent for one hour, two hours, one and a half hours, because in the tent, the oxygen is depleting. Afterwards, he gets dressed, folds up the blanket, and goes to my guest house.
When he gets back to the guest house we give him mutton stew. Then we give him lemonade made of small green lemons, and he rests there for two hours. Then he gets a massage, followed by dinner.
The course of treatment can last for three, five, seven, or nine days, depending on the patient’s condition. It cures rheumatism, rheumatoid arthritis, and especially impotence. If you cannot have children, you should get a medical checkup, and then come to me, and Allah willing, you will be able to have children.
Reporter: Most of the visitors to Siwa Oasis are French, English, or Libyan, who come as tourists, as well as for treatment. I asked the Siwans whether Israelis and Jews come for treatment, and whether there is a place for them above or below the sand of this Egyptian oasis.
Sayyid Harum Ahmad: We do not accept Jews here on principle. Absolutely not. The moment we see a Jew, our hair stands on end, like this. It’s an act of God. People should come to Siwa. It is open to tourists from all over the world, with one exception – the Jews. Honestly. We get French people, Jews, English people, Germans… We can smell if someone is a Jew.