Israelis now allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj and Umrah

This new rule, which Interior Minister Arye Dery signed on Wednesday was made in coordination with the defense establishment.

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On Sunday, the Interior Ministry of Saudi Arabia announced that Israelis will now be allowed to travel to the kingdom. This new rule allows Israelis to visit Saudi Arabia for Hajj and Umrah or business trips of up to 90 days. However, to go on business trips, the traveler must have an invitation from a Saudi official.

However, some Israelis, mainly members of the country’s Arab minority, already travel to Saudi Arabia despite not having official permission.

This new rule, which Interior Minister Arye Dery signed on Wednesday was made in coordination with the defense establishment. Sources said that Dery’s signature was the conclusion to a process that ‘had been brewing for many weeks’.

The Hajj and Umrah Committee, which is responsible for organizing pilgrimages by Israeli Muslims to Saudia, said that it was surprised by this decision. They were uncertain about what its practical implications will be.

The committee’s spokesman Sheikh Abd al-Rahim Fukara said that until now, pilgrims visited Saudi Arabia through Jordan. Their trips would be arranged by the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs.

The move will have diplomatic and economic ramifications for Jordan:

He said that any decision that affects this arrangement will have diplomatic and economic ramifications for Jordan, and could impact the Israel-Jordan relationship.

According to the committee, 30,000 Israeli pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia yearly. 4,500 of these perform Hajj and the rest perform Umrah.

For pilgrimage, they must submit their travel requests to the committee, which would then forward it to Jordan. Then, Jordan obtains the needed permits from Saudi Arabia and issues a Jordanian laissez-passer.

Israeli pilgrims can travel to Saudi Arabia by bus or plane from Jordan. Some pilgrims said that the plane went from Ben-Gurion International Airport to Saudi Arabia and there would be a brief stop in Amman to make it appear like they aren’t coming from Israel.

“We don’t yet know if there will be any change with regard to the pilgrimages,” Fukara said. “The decision seems to relate more to people who want to do business or make a private visit.”

“So far, we haven’t gotten any updates from Jordan or Saudi Arabia about a change,” he added. “This may be more of a declarative political step than something real.”

Fukara said that 16,000 Israelis have already signed up for Umrah and paid the full price in advance. Saudi Arabia has so far not responded to Israel’s announcement. This could be a sign of Israel’s warming relationship with the kingdom.

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