Plans for holy land tour in limbo as Israel imposes blanket ban on Indonesian visitors

Muslim Indonesians from the Prosperous Justice Party carry a replica of the Aqso mosque during an anti-Israel rally in Jakarta. (File Photo: AFP)
Updated 03 June 2018
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Plans for holy land tour in limbo as Israel imposes blanket ban on Indonesian visitors

  • Israel moves to ban the entry of Indonesian tourists, in retaliation for Jakarta suspending visas for Israelis after Gaza massacre
  • Every year tens of thousands of Muslims, including groups from Indonesia, enter Israel to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque, under a special visa

JAKARTA: Sally Piri’s plan to take her mother on a tour of the holy sites in the occupied West Bank this year may be put on hold after Israel’s recent move to ban Indonesian passport holders from entering the territory.
She had planned to go with her mother in November and has already paid for the tour, which includes visits to Bethlehem, Jericho, Nazareth and Caesarea, when she read the news that Israel had issued policy starting on June 10 that bans Indonesians.
“I really hope the policy will change so tourists like us who want to go on pilgrimage tours can still go. My travel agent told me they are still waiting for results of negotiations between their local partners and the authorities in Israel to have the policy revoked,” Sally told Arab News.
“My mother said she has been everywhere and now she just wants to go to the holy land,” she added.
Syuhelmaidi Syukur, a senior vice president of Jakarta-based humanitarian group Aksi Cepat Tanggap, told Arab News the ban will not disrupt the group’s humanitarian assistance for people in Palestine.
“We have rarely sent our own humanitarian workers there for the past two years, so we distribute our aid with the help of our local partners and fellow humanitarian groups in Gaza and Jerusalem,” he said.
Last week’s blanket ban for Indonesian tourists was, according to media reports, a tit-for-tat response to Indonesia’s decision to suspend visas already issued to Israeli citizens, suggesting that the visa cancelation was Indonesia’s response to the violence in Gaza in which Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians and injured thousands during recent protests to mark the Nakba.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said last week that Israel had been trying to reverse Indonesia’s decision but to no avail, which resulted in Israel reciprocating the move.
Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly confirmed on Friday that there were 53 Israeli nationals who had been denied visas to enter Indonesia.
“It was a clearing (house) decision that we have to carry out. We can’t disclose the reason because it’s a sensitive matter. It is our sovereign right to accept or reject visa (applications) from other countries,” Laoly told journalists at the Foreign Ministry.
Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel but an Israeli passport holder can still get an Indonesian visa through the “calling visa” mechanism which is available for citizens of nations with which Indonesia has no diplomatic relations.
The calling visa application is reviewed and granted by a clearing house which involves a number of government agencies with the Foreign Ministry at the lead, and the conditions applied to a calling visa holder are very restrictive.
Both Laoly and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi denied there had been initial talks about diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel or the possibility of Indonesia granting free visas to Israeli nationals.
“Indonesia continues to be with Palestine in their struggle for independence and their rights efforts. Our foreign policy to take sides with Palestine is very clear,” Marsudi said.


Pakistan wants peace with India, but conducts missile test

Updated 22 min 32 sec ago
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Pakistan wants peace with India, but conducts missile test

  • Pakistan announced that it has conducted a training launch of a Shaheen II, surface-to-surface ballistic missile
  • ‘We never speak bitterly, we want to live like good neighbors and settle our outstanding issues through talks’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has signaled a willingness to open peace talks with India as Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears set to return to power in New Delhi after an election fought in the shadow of renewed confrontation between the nuclear-armed enemies.
But in a possible warning to India, Pakistan also announced that it has conducted a training launch of a Shaheen II, surface-to-surface ballistic missile, which it said is capable of delivering conventional and nuclear weapons at a range of up to 1,500 miles.
“Shaheen II is a highly capable missile which fully meets Pakistan’s strategic needs toward maintenance of deterrence stability in the region,” Pakistan’s military said in a statement that made no direct mention of its neighbor.
On Wednesday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmud Qureshi spoke briefly with his Indian counterpart at the sidelines of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
“We never speak bitterly, we want to live like good neighbors and settle our outstanding issues through talks,” he said following the meeting.
The remark follows months of tension between the long-time rivals, which came close to war in February over the disputed region of Kashmir, which both sides have claimed since independence from Britain in 1947.
Following a suicide attack in Kashmir that killed 40 members of an Indian paramilitary police force in February, Indian jets launched a raid inside Pakistan, striking what New Delhi said was a training camp of Jaish-e Mohammed, the radical group that claimed the Kashmir attack.
In response, Pakistan conducted a retaliatory strike of its own and jets from the two countries fought a dogfight in the skies over Kashmir during which an Indian pilot was shot down and captured.
Amid international pressure to end the conflict, Pakistan returned the pilot and there were no further strikes but tensions remained high, with regular exchanges of artillery fire from both sides in Kashmir.
Pakistan has also kept part of its airspace closed to international air traffic, disrupting flights to India and other parts of the region.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly offered to start talks with India to resolve the Kashmir issue, and officials have said that they hoped the process could start once the election is concluded.
Khan himself said last month he believed there was more prospect of peace talks with Indian if Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the election.