Gulf News (Editorial)
December 31, 2007 - 6:45pm

Some 2,000 Palestinians who performed their Haj duties at Makkah are now stranded on two boats off the Egyptian coast.

The reason for this is a dispute that has arisen with the Israeli authorities, who demand the right to security control checks of all pilgrims, something the Palestinians are reluctant to do, fearing reprisals from the Israeli security forces.

In checking for security clearance, Israel also investigates whether any of the personnel are related to Palestinians already in Israeli jails, of known person wanted by Israel.

If it is proven to Israel's satisfaction that a pilgrim has some connection with a captive or wanted person, then from past experience, it is likely the pilgrim will be arrested and incarcerated without trial - something that happens to Palestinians all to often.

What probably has exacerbated the situation over these pilgrims is that they left to go to the Haj without the permission of President Mahmoud Abbas who, in consultation with Israeli authorities, decides how many and who will go to perform the Haj.

As this year all the pilgrims came from the West Bank, which is controlled by Abbas's Fatah movement, it meant those living in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, were left out.

It is believed that discussions between Egypt and Saudi Arabia allowed the concession of the Gazan pilgrims to cross through Egypt into Saudi Arabia to perform the Haj.

Now, though, preconditions are being set not only by Israel but also by Egypt, which is keen to see an end to the episode. But these preconditions are unacceptable to the Palestinian pilgrims, and so a stand-off persists.

It is shameful to think that in this 21st century, those who wish to undertake their religious obligations can be punished over such a futile issue as to which crossing point should be used.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017