Hajj for Israeli Palestinians: The problem of monopoly

Palestinians wave to say goodbye to their relatives on a bus before leaving for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah, in Gaza City. (AP)
Updated 26 August 2017

Hajj for Israeli Palestinians: The problem of monopoly

AMMAN: For 30 years, Palestinian Muslims who were Israeli citizens were denied one of the five tenets of Islam: The Hajj to Makkah and Madinah. This changed when the Arab League voted in 1977 to make special arrangements to allow Palestinian Muslims who remained in what became Israel after the 1948 war to be able to join Muslims from around the world in the annual pilgrimage.
Jordan was asked to organize their travel by giving them temporary Jordanian passports, since there are no diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. In addition, Jordan’s Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs arranges all issues relating to the Hajj, including who goes, transport to the holy places in Saudi Arabia and accommodation. This single-source arrangement continues to this day, and some 4,500 pilgrims are granted Saudi visas annually.
Amid the initial excitement of being able to break out of the isolation from the Arab and Islamic worlds, lack of competition has created problems such as higher prices and worsening services. In 2010, the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel met and created a fact-finding commission to study the deteriorating situation and make recommendations.
Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsour, a former member of Israel’s Parliament and former head of the Islamic movement in Israel, told Arab News that he was very happy with the commission’s work. “We looked at the problem from all angles, interviewed pilgrims who made the trip, and made substantial recommendations on how these problems need to be addressed,” said Sarsour, who was a leading member of the commission.
For months, it reviewed thousands of complaints about travel problems, exorbitant prices and inferior services. It noted the unprofessionalism of the way the entire Hajj process was handled, and hinted at the possibility of financial and administrative irregularities.
The report was presented at a press conference in Nazareth on Oct. 3, 2011. The commission met with Jordan’s Awqaf minister and handed him a copy of the report, which urged a total change in the way the Hajj process is handled. The recommendations included the need for the resignation of the ad hoc committee that was engaged with the Jordanian authorities, to be replaced by a proper institutional organization with clear governance criteria.
Sarsour said despite the official welcome by the Jordanian Waqf, the report and its findings were never looked into. This prompted him to write to the newly appointed Awqaf Minister Hael Daoud in October 2013 to remind him of the report and ask him to intervene. Again nothing happened.
Nawaf Al-Allam, a businessman from the town of Kufr Manda in Israel and head of the commission, said he is disappointed that the problems persist. “Muslims wishing to fulfil their duty to Hajj want to have a secure, safe and comfortable trip to Makkah and Madinah and back home,” he told Arab News.
The Hajj process for Palestinians in Israel is tainted and commercialized, and the people involved unqualified, he added. “The only way to rectify the situation is to break up the monopoly that has been created, and apply the same process for travel for Hajj and Umrah as there is in Jordan and other countries.”
Jordan should continue to provide passports to Muslim citizens of Israel wishing to travel to Saudi Arabia, but everything else should be left to professional tour companies, Al-Allam said. Travelers should be able to choose the company they want to travel with, and hold it accountable if they are unhappy with the price or service, he added.
The possibility of flying to Makkah rather than traveling by bus has been suggested. But the absence of diplomatic relations means a plane would need to land in Jordan then continue to Saudi Arabia so the latter would not be accused of normalizing relations with Israel. “If the situation isn’t rectified soon, our leadership will have no choice but to call for a boycott of the lucrative Umrah business,” said Sarsour.


Saudi Arabia bans livestock imports from Sudan and Djibouti over RVF fears

Updated 50 min 41 sec ago

Saudi Arabia bans livestock imports from Sudan and Djibouti over RVF fears

  • Sample from one livestock shipment arriving from Djibouti was found positive of Rift Valley fever
  • Livestock imports from Somalia had earlier been banned, says Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture has announced a ban on importing livestock from Sudan and Djibouti.

The ministry said the ban is a response to the announcement of World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) concerning documented cases of Rift Valley fever (RVF) in Sudan. 

In addition, a sample from one livestock shipment arriving from Djibouti was positive and thus was not cleared.

According to the ministry, Saudi Arabia imported 5 million heads of cattle from Sudan and 700,000 from Djibouti during the last Hijri year, prior to the ban.

The spokesman for the ministry, Abdullah Abalkhail, said that alternative sources include GCC, Jordan, Uruguay, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Georgia, Portugal, Hungary, Kazakhstan and Romania, as well as Chinese Mongolia, Argentine, Brazil and the US.

These countries can hardly compete with African states, said Al-Jadani, due to prices, different weather and customer demand. 

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Humaid Al-Jadani, a livestock merchant and a former member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce livestock committee, said 5 ships were about to arrive carrying up to 50,000 heads of cattle when the ban was announced, but were turned back.
  • He said that the Saudi market depends heavily on imports from Africa, specifically Sudan and Djibouti.
  • Prices have risen during the past two days by 30 percent and further rises are expected, said Al-Jadani.
  • Official reports from Sudan say that at least 135 cases of rift valley fever were documented in Sudan, in Kassala, Red Sea and northern Darfur. 

The domestic livestock, he added, covers the demand of a very low percentage of the market and the price of local sheep are very high.

All shipments are examined at their point of arrival and only healthy animals are allowed into the local market.

 

Regulations

The ministry has already banned livestock imports from Somalia.

“The ministry studies each country individually to put health regulations in line with the OIE and we follow up daily reports from the OIE to reduce the spread of the diseases among animals and people,” Abalkhail said.

Humaid Al-Jadani, a livestock merchant and a former member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce livestock committee, said five ships were about to arrive carrying up to 50,000 heads of cattle when the ban was announced, but were turned back.

He said that the Saudi market depends heavily on imports from Africa, specifically Sudan and Djibouti.

According Al-Jadani, prices have risen during the past two days by 30 percent and further rises are expected in the coming period.

The ministry has called on those working in the sector to contact officials on the hotline 8002470000 if they find any suspicious cases.

A fine up to SR1 million ($267,000) will be imposed on any company contravening the ban.

Official reports from Sudan say that at least 135 cases of RVF were documented in Sudan, in Kassala, Red Sea and Northern Darfur. According to the World Health Organization Sudan witnessed a huge RVF outbreak in 2007, while in Saudi Arabia RVF spread back in 2000.

The World Bank noted previously that six zoonotic diseases between 1997 and 2009 have led to a loss of $80 billion.

Officials believe that only through collaboration between various authorities in the health, biology and environment sectors the disease can be controlled.