A day after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas renewed his call on Arabs and Muslims to visit Jerusalem, a group of Saudi activists are demanding permission to do exactly that.
The group, headed by Saudi political activist and journalist Ahmad Adnan, issued a statement Friday calling on Gulf states to remove the travel ban to Israel. The statement was addressed to Jordan’s King Abdullah, Abbas and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary General Abd Al-Latif Zayani.
“A civic, realistic discourse must be offered to the Palestinian question, removed from ideological or extremist preaching,” Adnan wrote in the statement. “A different way of serving Jerusalem and emphasizing its Arabness must be offered. Positive individual initiatives should be encouraged, not as representatives of their states and without clashing with them.”
The subject of Muslim and Arab visits to Jerusalem has been hotly debated in the Arab press over the past few weeks, with Islamist ideologues and secular politicians opposing such visits as “normalization” with Israel. Last week, the chief mufti of Egypt was harshly criticized by his country’s media and politicians following a private visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Muslim leaders and Hamas politicians chorused their criticisms of his ostensible “legitimitization” of Israel’s control of the city. Christian Copts from Egypt also defied the travel ban to visit the Holy City for recent Easter ceremonies.
Friday’s statement claimed that the Arab boycott of Jerusalem and “Palestine” only weaken the city’s Arab identity and the Palestinian cause.
The statement, phrased as a letter directed to GCC Secretary General Zayani and reported on the Qatar-based TV channel Al-Jazeera, claimed that Gulf Arabs have “a legitimate right” to visit Jerusalem without suffering adverse security or legal repercussions in their states.
On Wednesday, Abbas met an Arab youth delegation in his Ramallah office, where he stressed the importance of visiting Jerusalem, the Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya reported.
“Recently there has been a profound argument involving Arab and non-Arab commentators surround visits to Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa,” Abbas told the delegation. “Some said that such visits are prohibited, but they were proven that visiting Jerusalem was never banned, neither in the Quran nor in the Sunna (the oral Islamic tradition).”