The change in Saudi policy will now make it largely impossible for Palestinians living in the occupied territories or as temporary residents of Jordan to make the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.
AMMAN, JORDAN — Travel agents in Jordan and Palestine have reported that Saudi Arabia is no longer extending entry visas to Palestinian holders of temporary Jordanian passports, effectively banning them from undertaking the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. The new restriction is set to affect at least 634,000 Palestinians living in Jordan and occupied East Jerusalem, as these individuals have no access to any other type of travel document that would now meet the Saudi requirements for entry.
While the Gulf Kingdom has yet to make an official announcement regarding the policy, several travel agents working in Jordan and occupied Palestine told Middle East Eye that they had been warned by the Saudi consulate in Jordan that Palestinians with temporary Jordanian passports should not apply for Saudi entry visas.
Kamal Abu Dhiab, the head of the Jordan Society of Tourism and Travel Agents, told Middle East Eye that “they [Saudi Arabia] informed us not to send any Jordanian temporary passports to get a visa. The Saudi consulate informed us recently, and their message was not written but verbal.”
Abu Khaled al-Jimzawi, the owner of the al-Odeh Office for Tourism in East Jerusalem, also confirmed the policy, which had been relayed to him by the Palestinian Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in Ramallah. Al-Jimzawi said in a statement to Middle East Eye:
We were informed of the decision at the beginning of September. They [Saudi authorities] have informed Palestinian and Jordanian tourist companies and the Palestinian Ministry of Awqaf that they will refuse to issue visas for any temporary passport that has no national number.”
The temporary passports, issued by the Civil Status and Passports Department in Jordan’s capital Amman, are valid for five years and are offered to Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank, as well as within Jordan.
Given their temporary nature, the passports do not extend the rights of Jordanian citizenship to their holders and do not include a national identification number. As a result, most Palestinians with such passports use them only as travel documents when traveling abroad. Last year, 6,600 Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip traveled to Saudi Arabia to complete the Hajj using these temporary passports.
The change in Saudi policy will now make it largely impossible for Palestinians living in the occupied territories or as temporary residents of Jordan to make the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. The Hajj pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia is of paramount importance to Muslims, as Muslims must complete the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.
Although the Hajj is mandatory in the Muslim faith, only those who are physically and financially able to make the journey are expected to do so. Furthermore, a person can appoint a proxy to make the Hajj in his or her stead if they are unable attend. Thus, while the new Saudi policy openly discriminates against Palestinians by effectively barring over 600,000 Palestinians from making the journey, there are workarounds that will likely still enable Palestinian Muslims to fulfill the requirements of their faith.
A crooked path to a long-term Israeli goal
Despite the fact that religious workarounds exist, one solution in particular is being promoted to Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem. Unsurprisingly, however, that solution comes with a catch.
According to Palestinian travel agencies that manage trips to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimages, Palestinians living in occupied Jerusalem are being encouraged to apply for passports issued by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Those passports will cost 240 shekels ($65) and will be valid for one year. It is currently unclear whether those passports will provide holders with a national identification number.
However, if a Palestinian applies for this passport, his or her residency in occupied East Jerusalem is likely to come under threat as Israel, in the past, has revoked the residency rights for Palestinians living in occupied Jerusalem for possessing dual nationality. Indeed, Israel’s 1952 “Entry to Israel” law allows Israel’s Interior Ministry to revoke Jerusalem residency rights for “foreign nationals” — i.e., anyone with a non-Israeli national identification number.
A PA official speaking anonymously to Middle East Eye denied the PA would issue passports to East Jerusalem residents who hold Israeli identity cards, as it is against PA policy to issue official documents to Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, even if their ID cards are revoked by Israel.
Yet, given Saudi Arabia’s increasingly close ties with Israel, it seems that this “solution” to the problem created by the new Saudi policy may be aimed at aiding the Israeli government in its long-standing efforts to annex the entire city of Jerusalem. In addition, as some Arab media outlets have noted, the new unofficial Saudi policy may also be set to coincide with the soon-to-be-revealed “Deal of the Century” imposed by the Trump administration, which is set to eliminate any hopes of a future Palestinian state.
Top Photo | In this Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015 photo, Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Thousands of Muslims from all over the world have arrived in Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca. Every Muslim is required to perform the hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime if able to do so. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.