New directives issued by Saudi Arabia have effectively banned more than 600,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon from performing pilgrimage at Mecca
The Kingdom has banned Palestinians holding temporary Jordanian passports from entering the country, which means that hundreds of thousands of people are barred from undertaking the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.
There has been no official announcement regarding the policy, though several travel agents working in Jordan and occupied Palestine say that they had been warned last month by the Saudi consulate in Jordan that Palestinians with temporary Jordanian passports should not apply for Saudi entry visas.
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Middle East Eye reports: The measure directly affects almost 634,000 Palestinians living in Jordan and Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, who have no access to any other form of travel document allowing them to go to Saudi Arabia, where millions of Muslims travel each year on pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
The Jordanian temporary passport is a document valid for five years issued to Palestinians who live in occupied East Jerusalem by the Civil Status and Passports Department in Amman.
Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip who live in Jordan, estimated to number around 150,000, are also issued the temporary passports, while Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank are legally entitled to apply for one also.
The holder of a temporary passport does not have a national identification number and is therefore not entitled to the full rights of Jordanian citizenship.
Palestinians living in East Jerusalem use the passport merely as a travel document to move from one country to another, especially in the majority of Arab states that do not recognise Israel or Israeli-issued travel documents.
Kamal Abu Dhiab, the head of the Jordan Society of Tourism and Travel Agents, told MEE that the organisation had been informed “verbally over the phone” of the measure by the Saudi consulate in Amman.
“I can confirm that they informed us not to send any Jordanian temporary passports to get a visa. The Saudi consulate informed us recently, and their message was not written but verbal,” Abu Dhiab said.
Abu Khaled al-Jimzawi, the owner of the al-Odeh Office for Tourism in East Jerusalem, said that he had been informed of the decision by the Palestinian Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in Ramallah, the administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority-run West Bank.
“We were informed of the decision at the beginning of September. They [the Saudi authorities] have informed Palestinian and Jordanian tourist companies and the Palestinian Ministry of Awqaf that they will refuse to issue visas for any temporary passport that has no national number,” Jimzawi said.
Loss of status
Palestinians in East Jerusalem are being encouraged instead to apply for passports issued by the PA, the owner of an Umrah and Hajj travel agency told MEE, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of losing his contract with the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.
Tourist companies in Jordan and Palestine must abide by legal contracts with the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. Registered companies require a username and a passport from the ministry that allow them to apply for visas and upload documents online.
According to the travel agent, the PA passport will cost Palestinians 240 shekels ($65), be valid for one year only and take a day to be processed.
“Palestinians in Jerusalem are afraid of the repercussions of this decision. If they apply for a document issued by the PA, they are afraid their legal status and residence in Jerusalem could be put in jeopardy,” he said.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, and has since attempted to annex it in a move never recognised by the international community. Palestinians who remained in the city and their descendants are under Israeli law recognised as East Jerusalem residents. But this status is often revoked by Israel for a myriad of reasons – such as dual nationality.
It is unclear if passports issued for Palestinians in East Jerusalem by the PA will have a national number. If so, it could potentially allow Israel’s interior ministry to revoke their Jerusalem residency rights and expel them as foreign nationals under the 1952 “Entry to Israel” law.
However, an official who works for the Palestinian cabinet, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that the PA would issue passports to East Jerusalem residents who hold Israeli identity cards, saying that its policy is not to issue documents to Palestinians from East Jerusalem even if their ID cards are revoked by Israel.
Saudi embassies in London and Amman and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah did not reply to MEE requests for comment.