Hamas attacks Islamic tourism to Jerusalem

Gaza government slams Israeli, PA initiatives; calls on Arab League and clerics to bar religious pilgrimages to the city

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Muslim women pray near Al-Aqsa mosque, August 8 (photo credit:  Mahfouz Abu Turk/FLASH90)
Muslim women pray near Al-Aqsa mosque, August 8 (photo credit: Mahfouz Abu Turk/FLASH90)

The Hamas government in Gaza attacked an Israeli bid to encourage tourism to Jerusalem from Islamic countries, calling it a “dangerous Zionist plot.”

In a statement published by Hamas on its official website, the government of Gaza blasted the initiative, espoused by Israeli tourism companies and supported by the Tourism Ministry, to encourage religious visits by Muslim tourists from countries in Africa and East Asia.

“We warn against the danger of this Zionist plot, which aims to propagate the Zionist narrative and enshrine the Jewish Talmudic story,” read the statement. “[The initiative] aims to market the so-called right to Al-Aqsa [Mosque] and its plaza and blur the historic depth of Arab and Islamic civilization.”

Hamas’s statement comes amid a larger tug of war between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has long called for Islamic and Arab tourism to Jerusalem to assert its Arab identity, and religious figures who have banned such trips as long as the city and its holy sites are administered by Israel.

In March 2012, Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu-Rudeinah announced that groups from across the Arab world would soon visit Jerusalem and the West Bank “to assert Jerusalem’s Arabness and [show] that Jerusalem is not only Palestinian but is relevant to all Arabs, Muslims and Christians across the world.”

Religious leaders such as Muslim cleric Youssef Qaradawi and the deceased Coptic pope Shenouda III famously disallowed such visits.

Hamas asserted that the Israeli initiative would fail in “shaking the live memory of Muslims and their strong connection to Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa,” and called on the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to actively ban their citizens from visiting Jerusalem.

The Israeli ministry of tourism denied that it operated any targeted campaign for Muslim tourists

“However, there is high touristic potential there and we hope it will be realized one day,” the spokesman told the Times of Israel.

According to the ministry, Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, is the third largest source of incoming tourism to Israel, despite the lack of diplomatic relations between the countries. 27,000 Indonesian tourists entered Israel in 2012, mostly as groups belonging to evangelical churches.

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