Thousands of Gaza Pilgrims Denied Right to Perform Umrah This Year

By Yousef M. Aljamal – Gaza

While Muslims around the globe welcome the holy month of Ramadan with delightful decorations and unique rituals, Gaza remains the usual exception due to the collapsed economy.

Ten years of blockades imposed on the 1.9 million Palestinians living in Gaza have made the situation desperate. Even Gazans who have the financial capacity to perform the Umrah, pilgrimage to Makkah, at this holy time face restrictions as the Israeli blockade on the enclave prevents them from doing so.

In Gaza, pilgrims have been denied the opportunity to perform the Umrah due to the continued closure of the borders.The head of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Companies in the Gaza Strip, Awad Abu Madkour, announced that Gazans will be unable to perform Umrah this year for the second time respectively, due to lack of Egyptian approval of the pilgrims’ transit through its territory.

Abu Madkour explained in a press statement, “Even if the Egyptian Authorities approve the pilgrims’ departure at the present time, we [Umrah Companies] will not be able to finish the procedures to obtain the needed permits for the pilgrims on time”.

Fayeq Belal a 25-year-old resident who aspired to perform Umrah this year said, “Ramadan’s Umrah is like the Gazans’ breather to purify their heart, recharge their power of faith, and bring happiness to people with gifts from Makkah and Madina. It’s also a great opportunity for some of us to do some trade”. Unfortunately, the closure of the borders have deprived Belal of fulfilling his wish this year.

“I speak full of pain because this is the second year in row to have a failed season. The closure of the crossing is the main reason for the failure of the Umrah season. This is a religious ritual and politics should stay out of it. It is really sad,” Mueen Mushataha, of the Mushtaha company, which facilities Haj and Umrah seasons, told the Palestine Chronicle.

Abu Madkour said that the total loss of the Umrah season this year exceeds one million dollars, incurred by 79 companies operating in the field of Umrah and Hajj, as well as another million incurred due to the failure of the previous season.

Abu Madkour said that four Hajj and Umrah Companies had to shut down this year due to the failure of the season. “How about next year? Will we witness more closures of other companies?” Abu Madhour asked.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, the Rafah Crossing, which had become the main crossing point used by Palestinian passengers in the Gaza Strip due to the Israeli restrictions, has been closed since October 24 2014, except for 42 days. At least 30,000 Palestinians are registered and waiting to leave, including approximately 9,500 medical cases and 2,700 students.

Abu Madkour stated that the number of registered pilgrims at licensed companies for this year is about 12 thousands in the Gaza Strip, and due to the continued closure, none would enjoy performing the holy rituals this time.

-Yousef M. Aljamal is the Palestine Chronicle Correspondent in the Gaza Strip.

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