Plans for holy land tour in limbo as Israel imposes blanket ban on Indonesian visitors

Muslim Indonesians from the Prosperous Justice Party carry a replica of the Aqso mosque during an anti-Israel rally in Jakarta. (File Photo: AFP)
Updated 03 June 2018
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Plans for holy land tour in limbo as Israel imposes blanket ban on Indonesian visitors

  • Israel moves to ban the entry of Indonesian tourists, in retaliation for Jakarta suspending visas for Israelis after Gaza massacre
  • Every year tens of thousands of Muslims, including groups from Indonesia, enter Israel to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque, under a special visa

JAKARTA: Sally Piri’s plan to take her mother on a tour of the holy sites in the occupied West Bank this year may be put on hold after Israel’s recent move to ban Indonesian passport holders from entering the territory.
She had planned to go with her mother in November and has already paid for the tour, which includes visits to Bethlehem, Jericho, Nazareth and Caesarea, when she read the news that Israel had issued policy starting on June 10 that bans Indonesians.
“I really hope the policy will change so tourists like us who want to go on pilgrimage tours can still go. My travel agent told me they are still waiting for results of negotiations between their local partners and the authorities in Israel to have the policy revoked,” Sally told Arab News.
“My mother said she has been everywhere and now she just wants to go to the holy land,” she added.
Syuhelmaidi Syukur, a senior vice president of Jakarta-based humanitarian group Aksi Cepat Tanggap, told Arab News the ban will not disrupt the group’s humanitarian assistance for people in Palestine.
“We have rarely sent our own humanitarian workers there for the past two years, so we distribute our aid with the help of our local partners and fellow humanitarian groups in Gaza and Jerusalem,” he said.
Last week’s blanket ban for Indonesian tourists was, according to media reports, a tit-for-tat response to Indonesia’s decision to suspend visas already issued to Israeli citizens, suggesting that the visa cancelation was Indonesia’s response to the violence in Gaza in which Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians and injured thousands during recent protests to mark the Nakba.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said last week that Israel had been trying to reverse Indonesia’s decision but to no avail, which resulted in Israel reciprocating the move.
Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly confirmed on Friday that there were 53 Israeli nationals who had been denied visas to enter Indonesia.
“It was a clearing (house) decision that we have to carry out. We can’t disclose the reason because it’s a sensitive matter. It is our sovereign right to accept or reject visa (applications) from other countries,” Laoly told journalists at the Foreign Ministry.
Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel but an Israeli passport holder can still get an Indonesian visa through the “calling visa” mechanism which is available for citizens of nations with which Indonesia has no diplomatic relations.
The calling visa application is reviewed and granted by a clearing house which involves a number of government agencies with the Foreign Ministry at the lead, and the conditions applied to a calling visa holder are very restrictive.
Both Laoly and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi denied there had been initial talks about diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel or the possibility of Indonesia granting free visas to Israeli nationals.
“Indonesia continues to be with Palestine in their struggle for independence and their rights efforts. Our foreign policy to take sides with Palestine is very clear,” Marsudi said.


Pakistan's leading political party faces jolt

Updated 24 June 2018
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Pakistan's leading political party faces jolt

  • Former PM Nawaz Sharif may not be able to spearhead PML-N's election campaign
  • The three-time premier is a crowd-puller and could help the beleaguered PML-N, but only “if he returns to Pakistan and leads the election campaign,” political analyst Tahir Malik told Arab News on Sunday

ISLAMABAD: The electoral success of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) hangs in the balance as its most charismatic leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is outside the country and may not lead his party’s campaign ahead of the July 25 polls, analysts say.
“If Sharif doesn’t return from London to Pakistan by next week, his party may face huge losses in the upcoming elections,” political analyst Tahir Malik told Arab News on Sunday.
The three-time premier is a crowd-puller and could help the beleaguered PML-N, but only “if he returns to Pakistan and leads the election campaign,” Malik said.
Sharif is in London visiting his wife Begum Kalsoom Nawaz, who has been on a ventilator since June 14 and has been undergoing treatment for throat cancer since August 2017.
“Do you think it is appropriate for me to return to Pakistan when Begum Kalsoom is fighting for life?” Sharif asked on Saturday.
He said he had planned a four-day trip to London, but is now unsure about returning to Pakistan due to her health. Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz have been in the UK since June 15.
“The Sharif family is passing through a difficult time, and the situation could adversely impact their party’s electoral prospects,” Malik said.
An accountability court hearing three separate corruption references against Sharif, Nawaz and others is scheduled to conclude the trial by July 9, as per the Supreme Court’s instructions.
In July 2017, the Supreme Court disqualified Sharif from holding the prime minister’s office, and directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to file corruption references against him and his family members.
“Even after being disqualified from holding any public office, Sharif still enjoys public support,” political analyst Rasul Bukhsh Rais told Arab News.
But if the accountability court convicts Sharif in the graft cases before the elections, this would demoralize his party and PML-N voters, Rais said.
His younger brother, who has become the party’s president after Sharif’s disqualification, “may not be able to run an effective election campaign,” Rais added.
Sen. Mushahidullah Khan, the PML-N’s information secretary, said Sharif and his daughter will return to Pakistan to lead the party’s election campaign once his wife’s health improves.
“Our detractors will be disappointed. The PML-N will win a clear majority in the elections under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif,” Khan told Arab News.