While we are bombarded with propaganda about how central Jerusalem is to Muslims and Arabs, one of the striking ironies of the Middle East is that the Arabs who have an opportunity to visit Jerusalem are actively discouraged from doing so.
A few months ago, the Egyptian head of Al Azhar University stated that even though there is no political obstacle stopping Egyptians from visiting Jerusalem, he refuses to do so.
At about the same time, the Egyptian Olympic soccer team announced plans to play a friendly match with a Palestinian Arab team near Jerusalem - and then were forced to cancel that trip, under heavy criticism from Egypt for even considering doing something like this - even to help Palestinian Arab morale.
Soon thereafter, a popular Saudi TV preacher announced that he would broadcast a show from Jerusalem - and then he also quickly changed his mind under withering criticism from his colleagues.
Now, a Jordanian trade union has announced that Jordanians should not visit Jerusalem, even for religious purposes. Such visits, they say, fall under unacceptable "normalization" and should be fought against.
All of these proposed trips were to either be pilgrimages to Muslim holy places, or to help out Palestinian Arabs who feel isolated from even the Arab world. Yet the hatred of Israel is so acute that nothing can trump it.
While Jews will jump through hoops to visit holy places in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, Arabs are ostracized for considering doing the same for their supposedly third-holiest spot.
In fact, the one group of Arabs whose love of Jerusalem is enough for them to ignore this pressure aren't Muslims at all, but Christian Arabs who will travel from Egypt and Jordan to be in Jerusalem during Easter - even at the price of being punished back home by their employers and neighbors.
The greatest irony is that Palestinian Arabs would welcome any visit from their erstwhile "brethren." So it is not only that hating Israel is more important than the holiness of Jerusalem, but it is more important than helping Palestinian Arabs as well.
UPDATE: The Islamonazism blog points out that an Egyptian minister is indeed calling on all Muslims to visit Jerusalem - but to make Israel look bad:
Egyptian Minister of Religious Endowments Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq called on Muslims worldwide to visit Jerusalem and assert its Islamic identity.
In an interview with the Arab daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, Zaqzouq attacked the traditional Arab policy of tourism boycott against the Jewish state. He warned Israel’s building in the city could smother Islamic sites.
"I say to those who insist on not visiting [Jerusalem] before its liberation: my worst fear is that you will have nothing to visit after Israel realizes its plans in Jerusalem and elsewhere,” Zaqzouq was quoted as saying.
Zaqzouq said his tactic of urging a worldwide conversion on Jerusalem could be used to expose any subsequent Israeli hypocrisy, should the Israeli government refuse to grant them entry permits. He said Muslims could then turn to the international community claiming religious discrimination.
"This would produce powerful leverage, in lieu of the current negative Islamic boycott," Zaqzouq said. "We are wrong to define Jerusalem as a Palestinian issue. Rather, it is a purely Islamic issue concerning 1.5 billion Muslims."
According to official data issued by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, only 1,870 Egyptians entered Israel in the first six months of this year. In comparison, some 77,000 Israeli traveled to Egypt during the same period.
"There are two sources of pressure preventing Egyptians from traveling to Israel," Sobhy Essaila, a researcher at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies told The Media Line. "The first is social and peer pressure placed on any individual wishing to travel to Israel. The second is the notion that the Egyptian security keeps a record of anyone traveling there."
Essaila denied that the Egyptian security apparatus outwardly pressured Egyptians not to travel to Israel, but the simple fact that they were being monitored put people off any visit. He added that traveling to Israel was regarded as a form of normalization which was widely rejected by the average Egyptian.