Madonna, Mr. Big and Richard Gere take a trip

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Next to Rachel's Tomb which Madonna visited is Ayda Refugee Camp which has 5,000 residents who are refused entry into Israel.

The Israeli Tourism Authority, thinking of creativeways to lure visitors back to the Holy Land, has takento organizing the high profile visits of Hollywoodstars and pop divas to mixed reaction.

Earlier this year, Richard Gere arrived for a filmfestival, attended a seminar, had posters of his faceplastered all over Israel and generally left with ravereviews especially from the female human rightsactivists. They didn't question the intentions of hisvisit or give him too much flak for not taking anypublic positions on human rights. They work on humanrights every day of the year, but he was Richard Gere!

A few months later Chris Noth, Mr. Big of Sex and the City, was on thepages of Haaretz being whisked away by helicopter tosee the sights of Israel all paid for by the goodfolks at the Israeli Tourism Authority. In fact, theywere even armed with pro forma statements about howmuch the visit would boost Israeli tourism.

Then came “Esther,” the pilgrim Madonna, donning thelatest Kabbalah outfit, raising a storm for visiting Rachel's Tomb, having her cab mobbed by fans resultingin her planned visit to the Old City of Jerusalembeing cancelled — such is the price of fame in theHoly Land.

Fresh off the “Reinvention Tour,” Madonna iswearing a red thread on her wrist to ward off the evileye and refuses to perform on the Sabbath. She hasreceived rough treatment by religious Jews andPalestinian activists questioning the intentions ofher visit. A security team of 1,000 police officerswere drafted to protect her entourage of 2,000 fromthe Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles.

Madonna's visit to Rachel's Tomb was particularlydrawing the ire of human rights activists as theSeparation Barrier annexes the shrine and because thePalestinians are under full closure for the entiremonth of the Jewish High Holidays.

Next to Rachel's Tomb is Ayda Refugee Camp which has 5,000 residents who are refused entry into Israel. Herwillingness to come to the West Bank with securityforces and not comment on human rights issues there isparticularly drawing criticism. Unlike her formerhusband Sean Penn who has visited Iraq and spoken outagainst the war, Madonna never been one to takepolitical positions for fear of hurting her celebritystatus.

With all her moves from Sex Goddess to Yoga diva tochildren's author to British den mother to an endorserof Wesley Clark didn't dim the willingness of the“Israeli street” to question her newfound Kabbalahaddiction and for religious Jews to dismiss her use ofJudaism as a cheap marketing ploy. For her efforts onher five day tour, “Esther” received an ancient oillamp and a coin from the Byzantine period from theIsraeli Tourism Authority.

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