Families of Palestinian martyrs given royal Hajj award hit by rise in travel fees

This aerial photo from a helicopter shows Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, durning the hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. (AP)
Updated 15 August 2019

Families of Palestinian martyrs given royal Hajj award hit by rise in travel fees

  • Talib: If it were not for this offer, we would not have been able to perform Hajj because of the high fees and financial costs for the Palestinian pilgrims, and the deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip
  • Al-Barawi praised the Kingdom’s role as the biggest supporter of the Palestinian cause and the relatives of martyrs

GAZA CITY: For Mohammed Talib and his mother, their dream of performing Hajj has become a reality, thanks to the generosity of Saudi Arabia’s leadership.
After years of waiting, the pair were selected for the pilgrimage as part of King Salman’s hosting of 1,000 families of Palestinian martyrs.
Talib, whose father Adnan was killed in an Israeli air strike in 2006 while driving an ambulance, said: “If it were not for this offer, we would not have been able to perform Hajj because of the high fees and financial costs for the Palestinian pilgrims, and the deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip.”
The initiative began in 2001, with the goal of allowing thousands of pilgrims to perform Hajj, annually divided between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Suspended in 2006 and revived again in 2008, the selection process of the martyrs’ families is based on seniority covering those killed after the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Since 2011 a total of 1,000 pilgrims a year have benefitted from the royal award.
However, even when selected, some relatives still struggle to pay the 800 Jordanian dinars (SR4,230) per person demanded by the Palestinian authorities toward trip costs. The Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs raised the fees for ordinary pilgrims this year to about JOD2,790, up more than 300 dinars from last season, which sparked a wave of anger among pilgrims.
Agricultural worker Nabil Turbani suggested that the Palestinian authorities should exempt struggling families from having to pay the fees. He said a lack of employment opportunities meant he and his family had to live on social welfare assistance.
Secretary-general of the national committee for the martyrs’ families in Gaza, Maher Badawi, said there was controversy surrounding Hajj fees not only for regular pilgrims but those specially selected by Saudi Arabia.
He said most martyrs’ families suffered under difficult economic and living conditions, and some had decided not to perform Hajj because of the restrictive travel costs between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Spokesman for the national committee of the martyrs’ families, Alaa Al-Barawi, said that each of the 1,000 people selected could travel with another family member. He added that Gaza granted 20 places to people living in Egypt, and the West Bank gave some of its share to the families of martyrs in Jordan and Lebanon.
He said this year’s quota reflected the high number of loses in Gaza and the West Bank due to Israeli attacks in recent years. In 2009, Saudi Arabia increased to 4,000 the number of beneficiaries of the honor of the Palestinian martyrs’ families because of the casualties of war.
Al-Barawi praised the Kingdom’s role as the biggest supporter of the Palestinian cause and the relatives of martyrs.


Cocoa bean harvest: A sweet opportunity for Saudi Arabia

Gebran Al-Maliki, owner of a cocoa plantation, says introducing cocoa will help reshape the agriculture sector. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 30 November 2020

Cocoa bean harvest: A sweet opportunity for Saudi Arabia

  • The Jazan region is known for its lush, green lands and fertile soil that possesses the necessary ingredients to ensure the development of other crops that guarantee continuity and different harvest times for each type of plant harvested in the area

MAKKAH: In an unprecedented experience for the Kingdom, a harvest season of more than 200 cocoa shrubs began this year in Jazan following several years of planting the Filipino seedlings.

The foreign plant is a new experiment for the Kingdom as it plans on testing out the long-term success of planting the favored sweet treat.

Specialists in the region pointed out that the cocoa shrub resembles the famous coffee shrub found in the south region of the Kingdom, where a number of farmers have already begun to evaluate the experience and continue cultivating land to make room for more, while others were not so successful.

The supervisor of the Mountain Areas Development and Reconstruction Authority in Jazan, Eng. Bandar Al-Fifi, said: “The cocoa shrub is a tropical or subtropical shrub and is native to South America and East Asia. It was presented to the Mountain Regions Development and Reconstruction Authority a few years back, specifically to the agricultural research station.”

He added: “The cultivation process was carried out six years ago by bringing seeds and seedlings from the Philippines. The seeds were cultivated and seedlings were distributed to some interested farmers in the region.

“We in the station’s field have cocoa, banana, mango and guava trees, as well as many tropical and subtropical trees. The field is being used as a guarantor of seeds, in addition to conducting tests and real experiments in an area of 200 meters, in particular on 15 cocoa plants and the first cocoa shrub in Saudi Arabia.”

He told Arab News that it was difficult at first to encourage farmers to invest in the plant, as many were hesitant to introduce a plant not indigenous to the region in order to facilitate the establishment of manufacturing factories and grow a local market.

Al-Fifi said that in Ethiopia, companies buy crops from farmers and then start an integrated industrial process of sorting, cleaning, drying and roasting, because to complete the whole process is not economically viable for farmers alone.

“If every farmer owns 30 cocoa shrubs, this will be an additional source of income for their future,” he added.

The Jazan region is known for its lush, green lands and fertile soil that possesses the necessary ingredients to ensure the development of other crops that guarantee continuity and different harvest times for each type of plant harvested in the area. Rainfall is abundant, seasonal fluctuations in rainfall are scarce and humidity is high, ensuring that soil continues to retain the moisture it requires for harvests.

“In addition to the fact that the temperature gap between small and mature shrubs is not big, due to our proximity to the equator, Saudi Arabia is located below the tropical line, which creates environmental conditions that help the shrub grow,” said Al-Fifi.

Gebran Al-Maliki, one of the owners of a cocoa plantation in Jazan, told Arab News: “Adding cocoa to the Kingdom’s agricultural field is one of the innovative things in Saudi Arabia and it began to give good results that would broadly stimulate the development process, provide an agricultural model that can be trusted and improve experience in a country that supports its farmers and provides them with all the required capabilities.”

He received seeds and seedlings by the end of 2016 as an experiment in which everyone was granted support. “Some wanted to give this new experience a try, because it is similar to the coffee plant. It is an ordinary shrub, just like fruit and citrus trees, but it is a drought-tolerant shrub that is watered once a week.”

To successfully cultivate the fruit, Al-Maliki said that shrubs need shade when first planted in the ground as they are “quite finicky,” but that with the proper care and attention, a tree will flower at about three to four years of age and can grow up to two meters in height.

With up to 400 seeds, the product testing began on his farm after just four years.

“You can find 30 to 50 seeds inside a pod, which are later dried under the sun and ground to become a ready-to-use powder. Cocoa powder can be found in chocolate, oils and cosmetics, in addition to several other uses,” Al-Maliki said.

He said that the seed is very bitter and explained that the more bitter, the better the quality. He added that he has four shrubs, and what hindered the spreading process was waiting for the product quality test results, indicating that the fruit was tried and was found very successful.

The agricultural research station for the Development and Reconstruction of Agricultural Areas aim to reach 50 shrubs in the region to provide enough fruit to produce seeds and seedlings for farmers. Al-Fifi said that they aim to reach 400 seedlings per year that will be distributed, on top of seedlings grown by the region’s farmers themselves.