JERUSALEM: Omar Mohammad Raboun has been trying to perform the Hajj pilgrimage for 10 years.
This year his name and that of his wife, Amira, popped up when the Palestinian Ministry of Islamic Waqf chose them in the lottery for Gazans to participate.
Omar, 69, is a retired employee of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and told Arab News that he could not wait to visit the Kaaba and tour Madinah. “I have been waiting a long time for this opportunity to carry out the fifth duty of all Muslim believers,” he said.
While the pilgrimage has been known for centuries as a source of hardship, this year’s delegation expect to have things made easier as a result of an agreement reached with Palestine Airways to fly the pilgrims from Cairo International Airport directly to Madinah. Omar has never flown before, but said: “I am a believer and I know that our lives are in God’s hands.”
Amira, mother of four boys and five girls, is not as keen. “I have never flown also but to be honest I am a bit afraid,” she said.
Both Omar and Amira collected their tickets and vouchers at the Hanief Travel Agency, which organizes the Hajj trips. Mohammad Abdel Bari, the owner of the agency, told Arab News that this year’s pilgrims will have an easier time getting to Makkah and Madinah. “We have coordinated with the Egyptian and Saudi authorities and we have been promised that the travelers will be checked only at the first check point and then will be able to whiz through all other checkpoints in Sinai until they get to Cairo International Airport.”
Ramadan Barghouti, a senior official at Palestine Airways, told Arab News the Palestinian company has rented modern planes from EgyptAir to help transport the pilgrims back and forth to the holy places in Saudi Arabia.
“We have secured excellent deals with EgyptAir and we are able to offer the pilgrims land and air transport, as well as accommodation, for $3,942 per person,” said Barghouti, adding that Gazan would depart on July 25 and be back in Gaza just after Eid Al-Adha, around the week of Aug. 18.
Assem Salem, the Palestinian minister of transport, has stated that 3,000 Gazans will travel on the annual Hajj pilgrimage this year exclusively with Palestine Airways in coordination with EgyptAir.
A special tent city has been set up to accommodate all pilgrims during their stay in the Kingdom.