Saudi Arabia bans 3 million Palestinians from traveling to country to perform holy pilgrimage

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Saudi Arabia has barred some 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel from entering the country on temporary Jordanian passports, and thus, from performing Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. The decision is the latest in a series of measures taken by the Kingdom limiting Palestinian pilgrims’ access to Islam’s holiest site and comes against the backdrop of increasingly normalized relations between Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states.

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Saudi Arabia has barred some 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel from entering the country on temporary Jordanian passports, and thus, from performing Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that is compulsory for Muslims from around the world to perform at some point in their lives.

The decision is the latest in a series of measures taken by the Kingdom limiting Palestinian pilgrims’ access to Islam’s holiest site.

In September, Palestinian refugees living in Jordan and Lebanon, along with Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, were also banned from getting visas to Saudi Arabia.

It is estimated that the increased travel restrictions affect some 3 million Palestinians across these states, who have no access to any other form of travel documents allowing them to go to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, like most other Arab states, does not have official diplomatic relations with Israel, meaning Israeli citizens cannot travel to Saudi Arabia

A loophole, however, established by Jordan in 1978, has allowed for Palestinian citizens of Israel to travel to Jordan to obtain temporary Jordanian passports for $70, which they then use to travel to Saudi Arabia.

The same temporary passports are used by some 350,000 Palestinians in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and 634,000 Palestinians living in Jordan for travel purposes.

The move does not directly affect the millions of Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, who carry passports issued by the Palestinian Authority (PA), and can travel on those passports to Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, some 450,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are also to be affected by the move. Middle East Eye reported that following a decision by the Saudi Foreign Ministry in Riyadh, officials from the Saudi Consulate in Beirut had informed tourism companies in Lebanon that no Hajj and Umrah visas would be issued to Palestinians on their refugee travel documents.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, who do not enjoy several basic rights and are prohibited from working in as many as 20 professions, hold refugee travel documents issued by the Lebanese government, and do not have access to any other form of travel documents allowing them to go to Saudi Arabia.

The latest Saudi move comes against the backdrop of increasingly normalized relations between Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states.

A report last week by the Washington Post claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked senior officials in the Trump White House to continue supporting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Speaking at a forum in Bulgaria, Netanyahu said “what happened in the Istanbul consulate was horrendous and it should be duly dealt with. Yet at the same time I say it, it is very important for the stability of the world, for the region and for the world, that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”

In April of this year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said Israelis “have the right to have their own land” and that formal relations between Israel and the kingdom could be mutually beneficial.

The softened rhetoric of the two leaders towards each other, coupled with claims that Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner has been working to encourage an alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia, has led critics to believe the new Saudi policy against holders of temporary Jordanian passports is part of a larger effort between the Kingdom and Israel “to put an end to the “Palestinian identity and the right of return for refugees.”

Middle East Eye quoted an anonymous Jordanian source as saying that “Saudi Arabia is pressuring Jordan to naturalise the Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and now Palestinians in Israel. The same could happen in Lebanon. Then, you will not have a Palestinian refugees problem.”

While there have been no confirmations of such an agreement, it would fall in line with the policies of both Trump and Netanyahu administrations targeting Palestinian refugees and UNRWA, the agency responsible for providing humanitarian assistance to more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in the region.

Both Netanyahu and Trump have criticized UNRWA for the way it counts refugees, and for “perpetuating” the issue of Palestinian refugees.

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