Technically, not the hajj—but how could I resist?
With the war-battered Gaza Strip’s borders closed, thousands of people have been shut out of a Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia because they cannot leave the sealed territory.
Some 7,500 Gazans have sought to travel to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the minor umrah pilgrimage but have been turned away because Egypt restricts movement in and out of the coastal enclave.
Egypt has shut its border with the Gaza Strip since Oct. 24, citing security concerns in its northern Sinai Peninsula. It has opened it only intermittently for students and patients seeking medical care.
“I wait hour by hour. We feel every day that passes without leaving as though it’s a year,” said Fares Hayek, 80, who is among those waiting to make the pilgrimage. He applied in November along with his wife, children and grandchildren.
Boy, that’s tough. I’m tempted to label Egypt an apartheid state (since no one else will), and refer to Gaza as a township (Soweto-on-Sea), but let’s read a little further:
An Egyptian security official said that the closure is upon orders from President Abdel-Fattah Sisi, who said he will only open the border if it is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Despite an agreement last year to form a Palestinian unity government, Hamas remains in control of Gaza and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority wields little influence over the coastal strip.
Mahmoud Habash, an adviser to on religious affairs, blamed the pilgrims delay on the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt has accused militants of using Gaza for their operations.
“We agreed with the Egyptians that the first priority is the safety of the travelers and the safety of the Egyptian teams at the border crossing, and when the safety conditions permit, there will be no problem for them to go,” he said.
See? There you go. Egypt is penning up the Gazan Arabs out of an abundance of caution, a surfeit of love. It’s really quite touching when you look at it from the pan-Arab perspective.