2018 saw record number of tourists visit Israel from Muslim countries
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2018 saw record number of tourists visit Israel from Muslim countries

Among the visitors: almost 55,000 citizens of countries that do not have formal relations with Israel, including 14,000 Malaysians… and six Saudis

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Muslim worshipers hold Palestinian and Malaysian flags following Friday noon prayers At Jerusalem's Old City's al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount, December 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)
Illustrative: Muslim worshipers hold Palestinian and Malaysian flags following Friday noon prayers At Jerusalem's Old City's al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount, December 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

A record number of visitors from Muslim countries came to Israel last year, including nearly 55,000 from countries that have no diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.

According to figures provided by the Population and Immigration Authority on Monday, 72,109 citizens of Egypt and Jordan (the only Arab countries with which Israel has full diplomatic ties), Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Qatar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia visited Israel in 2018.

These numbers mark an increase of 15 percent from the previous year, when 62,658 tourists from the aforementioned countries traveled to the Jewish state.

Data from other Muslim countries was not made available.

In 2018, 12,363 Jordanians and 4,947 Egyptians came to Israel, along with 54,799 citizens of the remaining countries that do not have formal relations with Israel.

A whopping 37,555 Indonesians visited Israel last year, marking a five percent increase from 2017.

In October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the world’s most populous Muslim nation was “very important” to Israel.

Two months later, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem expressed its “most profound sympathies” to victims of a devastating tsunami that killed 280 people in Indonesia.

Perhaps surprisingly, the second-largest contingent from countries that don’t have ties with Israel came from Malaysia, a non-Arab Muslim-majority nation that made headlines earlier this year for banning Israelis from a Paralympic swimming tournament.

After Israel slammed the move as “shameful,” Malaysia lost the right to host the competition, but defiantly said it would not compromise on its decision “on the ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight.”

Nearly 14,000 Malaysian nationals came to Israel in 2018 — 4,000 more than the previous year.

Protesters wave Palestinian flags during a protest outside the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Residents of Arab countries visit Israel in significantly lower numbers. Only 2,108 Moroccans, 949 Tunisians, 81 Qataris, 56 Omanis, 36 Algerians, 34 Kuwaitis, 25 Emiratis and six Saudis made their way to the Jewish state last year.

While the number of visitors from Qatar has significantly increased from previous years — in 2017, only 15 came — the numbers from Saudi Arabia are down, from 11 in 2017.

Upon entering the country, tourists from Muslim countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel — most of whom are thought to focus their trips on visits to religious sites — can ask Population and Immigration Authority officials not to stamp their passports, lest they face reprisals when they return. Instead, the Israeli officials stamp a separate slip of paper that the visitors can throw out when they leave.

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