Gisha asks military to allow Muslim residents of Gaza to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah pilgrimage
On April 20, 2015, Gisha sent the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai a letter regarding exit by Muslim residents of the Gaza Strip via Israel, on route to Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah pilgrimage (Hebrew).
The Umrah is an expression of one of Islam’s most important religious rites, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Unlike the Hajj pilgrimage, the Umrah is performed individually and can be performed at any time of year. In addition to the importance of performing Umrah as part of the fundamental rites every Muslim should perform, it is a very significant personal, spiritual experience.
Israel acknowledges Palestinians’ right to freedom of religious worship and access to holy places. In recent months, it has expanded the eligibility criteria for permits to travel to holy places via Israel. For example, for some months now, Israel has allowed about 200 Muslim residents of Gaza to travel to Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem (Hebrew). During Christian and Muslim religious festivals, Israel grants Gaza residents permits to enter its own territory and the West Bank for the purpose of worship in holy places and family visits. These special permits are given in addition to permits that are routinely issued, without advance coordination, to West Bank residents wishing to visit holy places in Israel and to travel via Allenby Bridge and Jordan to Saudi Arabia in order to perform the Umrah and Hajj pilgrimages.
Given Israel’s recognition of Palestinians’ right to religious worship, and given the fact that the Rafah Crossing has been completely closed for several months, and cannot be used to travel abroad, Gisha contacted COGAT with a request for action to allow Muslim residents of Gaza to travel to Saudi Arabia on the Umrah pilgrimage via Erez Crossing and Israel. Such permits would allow Muslim residents of Gaza to exercise their right to religious worship.
On April 29, 2015, Gisha received the response of the COGAT Public Liaison Officer (Hebrew), stating that COGAT is in the process of reviewing the issue of travel by Gaza residents for purposes of the Umrah pilgrimage, and that once the process is complete and the conclusions are approved, a public announcement will be made through the relevant media.