Date: 30 November 2008
Time: 12:30 GMT
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) gravely views the suffering of Gaza pilgrims that has been caused by the actions taken by both governments in Ramallah and Gaza. Till the moment, these actions prevent the travel of Gaza pilgrims to a-Hejaz to perform Hajj. PCHR calls upon the two governments to respect the neutrality of religious affairs, particularly Hajj, away from the political harassments. The Centre calls upon the two governments to take all necessary measures to ensure and facilitate the immediate travel of all Gaza pilgrims, including providing access to Rafah border crossing without creating obstacles on their way, and avoiding the actions that caused suffering to the pilgrims during the last Hajj season.
According to PCHR follow-up of the issue of Gaza pilgrims, 70 travel and tourism offices in the Gaza strip started the registration of those who desire to make the Hajj for the year 1429 (Islamic Hijri Calender)/ 2008. The registration process took place between 25 May 2008 and 20 June 2008 following the determination of different dates for registration by the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in the two governments in Gaza and Ramallah. The setting of dates was not made in coordination between the two governments due to the ongoing power struggle. Civilians who wished to register for the Hajj were confused because there was no fixed reference for the registration offices. Those civilians had fears because the two governments in Gaza and Ramallah warned those who would deal with the opposite government.
During the determined duration, 19,295 civilians registered for the Hajj. Only 2,200 were selected by lottery, which is the Gaza’s share of Palestine 5,500 pilgrims. Gaza pilgrims who were waiting for the results of the draw were shocked when the two governments managed two separate draws with completely different results. The government in Ramallah announced, on Palestine satellite channel, it organized the lottery for the West Bank pilgrims while selecting Gaza pilgrims. The government in Gaza organized its lottery on 22 June 2008 in Gaza City in the presence of some Ministers, members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and representatives of travel and tourism offices.
Hajj and Umra offices that registered pilgrims for the government in Ramallah were raided by the security members of the government in Gaza who confiscated some computers and some files and papers of the registered pilgrims. Some owners of these offices reported they were arrested, beaten and questioned for hours. They said the questioning was about the registration of pilgrims and about their relation with the government in Ramallah. They added that security officers asked them to cooperate with the government in Gaza in relation to Gaza pilgrims.
The Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in Ramallah announced the completion of the travel procedures for Gaza registered pilgrims, including obtaining visas from the Saudi authorities. Meanwhile, the government in Gaza is still waiting the approval of the Saudi authorities to issue visas for the pilgrims who were registered through the government in Gaza. According to media reports, the two Ministers of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in the two governments exchanged accusations on the responsibility of hindering the travel of pilgrims who are registered the Ministry in Gaza. The Minister of of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in Gaza announced that the pilgrims who are registered by the Ministry in Ramallah would not be allowed to travel unless those who are registered through the Ministry in Gaza are allowed. The Ministry in Gaza allowed the vaccination of the pilgrims who are registered by the Ministry in Gaza more than a week ago, while it prevented the vaccination of the pilgrims who are registered by the Ministry in Ramallah, as cooperating with an illegal entity.
In the night of Friday, 28 November 2008, the security services of the government in Gaza installed many military checkpoints on the way to Rafah checkpoint, and inside the towns of the Gaza strip, to prevent the access of pilgrims to Rafah crossing. A number of pilgrims, their families and eyewitnesses who managed to arrive at Rafah crossing stated that the members of the security services prevented them from entering the crossing and beat some of the pilgrims and members of their families who were accompanying them. Some of pilgrims and members of their families sustained injuries and were taken to Abu Yousif al-Najjar Hospital for treatment. Ala’ Salama, a reporter for al-Quds Radio, reported that he was beat and insulted while returning to his home after having covered the events at the crossing.
PCHR has serious concerns on the dangerous implications of the ongoing power struggle between Hamas and Fatah movements that threatens to cancellation of the Hajj season this year for Gaza pilgrims, who paid all financial dues and prepared themselves to travel. PCHR warns of these implications that will spread to all sectors government, mainly health and education. PCHR:
1. Reiterates everyone’s right to freedom of belief and religion, including the right to practice of religious rites, individually or in groups, through ensuring him/her, individually or in groups, the freedom of movement and travel to perform these rites.
2. calls upon the two governments in Gaza and Ramallah to stop all forms of political harassments, that violate Gaza pilgrims’ right to perform the Hajj in al-Hejaz. The Center calls upon the two governments to take all necessary and urgent measures to facilitate their immediate travel and without delay, via Rafah crossing.
3. calls upon the two governments in Gaza and Ramallah to stop the politicization of the Hajj and Umra affairs, which is a seasonal affair that creates additional suffering and fatigue to the pilgrims and causes their delay and denies their enjoyment of the Hajj rites within sufficient time.
4. calls upon the government in Gaza to open serious investigations into all the attacks against a number of Gaza pilgrims, on 28 November, 2008, and bring perpetrators to justice and hold them accountable under the law.