Palestinians share their joy over performing Hajj

The costs of Hajj amount to $3,920 (SR14,700) per person, as Palestinian sources told Arab News that there was a slight increase in costs associated with Hajj for this year. (SPA)
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Updated 06 July 2022

Palestinians share their joy over performing Hajj

  • Twenty qualified companies are operating in the West Bank to transport pilgrims

RAMALLAH: Walid Ghuneim, 59, from Bethlehem on the West Bank, was overwhelmed with joy when a lottery system chose him and his wife to perform Hajj four years ago.

However, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the suspension of his Hajj performance, and he kept waiting until his name was chosen this year among 1,900 citizens of the West Bank.

Ghuneim, a building materials trader, did not sleep the night of his journey to Hajj, as his six sons, daughters, and their sons came to bid him farewell, with his brothers, sisters, relatives and friends also seeing him off.

In the early hours of the dawn, he and his wife were the first to arrive at the meeting point of pilgrims in Bethlehem set by the Hajj company. They took the bus to Jericho Crossing and then crossed the Israeli bridge linking the West Bank and Jordan on its way with 52 other passengers to Madinah, the first stop of the three-week pilgrimage.

“I did not sleep last night, and I am delighted and eager to see and visit the Prophet’s Mosque and the Holy Mosque in Makkah and perform Hajj with my wife,” Ghuneim, who is visiting Saudi Arabia for the first time in his life, told Arab News.

“All my bus colleagues and I are pleased with this great journey to perform Hajj,” he added.

Sameh Jbara, director of Palestinian Hajj and Umrah companies, told Arab News that the Saudi authorities had allowed 1,900 pilgrims from the West Bank and 600 from the Gaza Strip to perform the Hajj this year — after a brief hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic — which constitutes 45 percent of the previous allocation for Palestinians before the outbreak.

The costs of Hajj amount to $3,920 (SR14,700) per person, as Palestinian sources told Arab News that there was a slight increase in costs associated with Hajj for this year.

Twenty qualified companies are operating in the West Bank to transport pilgrims. They manage their logistics during the Hajj period, while Palestinian pilgrims spend 21 trips back and forth and performing Hajj, spending the first four days of it in Madinah before heading to Makkah, while Palestinian pilgrims travel by buses from the West Bank via Israel and Jordan, through to Saudi Arabia, on a trip that takes 24 hours to Madinah.

The Palestinian Minister of Awqaf Hatem Al-Bakri told Arab News that his ministry submitted a request to the Saudi authorities to increase Palestine’s quota of pilgrims and received a promise that if there were an increase, it would be a small percentage.

“The arrangements and procedures for this year’s pilgrimage were carried out in full coordination and cooperation between the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and us according to the protocols signed in this regard,” the minister said, adding: “We have taken into account the health protocols required by our brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and they are fully compatible with the protocols of the World Health Organization.”

The Hajj mission is accompanied by an administrative, media, health and security delegation of 650 people.

Ibrahim Melhem, the spokesperson of the Palestinian government, told Arab News that the Palestinian government had been in cooperation with the Saudi Ministry of Hajj for several months to ensure the necessary arrangements. He said that the Saudi authorities were highly organized and had conducted early planning for hotels, buses transporting pilgrims, and moving between the rites of Hajj.

“The country with the most experience in crowd management is Saudi Arabia,” Melhem told Arab News.


The write stuff: Interns graduate from third cohort of Arab News and Misk Foundation journalism training

Updated 09 August 2022

The write stuff: Interns graduate from third cohort of Arab News and Misk Foundation journalism training

  • Eight interns shortlisted by Arab News editors for the journalism internship program through the Misk foundation
  • Participants coached by Arab News’ team of experienced and award-winning senior editors and department heads

RIYADH: Arab News, the Middle East’s leading English-language daily, and the Misk Foundation, a non-profit organization that empowers Saudi youth in bringing to life a three-week intensive internship program, partnered to provide a unique hands-on training and mentorship program for young Saudi graduates pursuing journalism.

“It was a pleasure welcoming some of the Kingdom’s most promising media practitioners of tomorrow, and working closely with the Misk Foundation on this important partnership and training program,” said Faisal J.Abbas, editor-in-chief of Arab News.

Eight interns were shortlisted by Arab News editors for the journalism internship program through the foundation.

“Misk Skills is thrilled to collaborate with Arab News to provide Saudi youth with a great time of change, challenge, and excitement,” said Ghadeer Hamati, a consultant at the Misk Foundation.

Faisal J. Abbas, Arab News editor-in-Chief, with the interns at the Arab News headquarters in Riyadh. (Photo/Abdulrahman Shalhoub)

Hanin Alblwi, an enrolled intern in the program and law graduate, highlighted her experience: “This internship paved the way for me to understand the journalism industry and how it works. I really love writing and I want to be a freelance writer.”

FASTFACT

Participants were personally coached by Arab News’ team of experienced and award-winning senior editors and department heads from the Arab News headquarters in Riyadh and its bureaus in Dubai, London, France and Pakistan.

She shared in the first week that she didn’t know how to create a story from a news idea. She explained how amazed she was at how easily she was able to compete for a story in the second week of the program.

“The next week I just wrote the news easily, when you know the principles you can easily take it and apply it,” she explained.

“I highly recommend this program to everyone who wants to be a journalist,” she said.

Participants were personally coached by Arab News’ team of experienced and award-winning senior editors and department heads from the Arab News headquarters in Riyadh and its bureaus in Dubai, London, France and Pakistan.

“This internship was a great opportunity for an aspiring writer who wants to learn about this growing field. My experience with Arab News allowed me to learn about journalism from very passionate journalists and leaders at Arab News,” said Amal Alshehry, an intern and a master’s degree holder in English language.

The interns were also able to sit down with the Arab News editor-in-chief to gain insight into the world of journalism.

“The meeting with the editor-in-chief was a life lesson for me. He has inspired us to work and succeed in journalism, and to find passion in whatever we choose to do in life,” said Alshehry.

“I encourage fresh graduates to join this internship because the community here is amazing. I have learned a lot from other colleagues and the instructors,” said Thekra Altamimi, another intern.

The enrolled interns also went on the ground and conducted interviews with attendees of the JAX Art Festival in Riyadh while being guided by some of the newspaper’s most seasoned reporters.

“With no exaggeration, it was one of the best experiences in my life. I enjoyed interviewing people and experiencing it all as a journalist,” said Altamimi.

The partnership was initially struck in 2019 with the first group of students entering the training program. The program was put on hold in 2020 due to the pandemic, but picked right back up in 2021 through a virtual internship program. This year’s installment, the third cohort, was conducted in a hybrid format.

Interns learned about the methods of covering a wide range of topics from regional and global issues through some of the most experienced correspondents at Arab News across the business, lifestyle, politics, local and regional news desks.

“I learned the fundamentals and elements of journalism, and communication, teamwork, and how to write about daily things in our life but to see them from a different perspective,” said Mohammed Almarri, an intern.

Students gained a wider understanding of the basics of news writing, editing, media ethics, fact-checking and ways to strengthen their reporting skills through the power of observation and new story structures.

“I studied journalism and it’s my passion. I love to write and I am so happy to be a part of this program. I hope to pursue journalism as a career, it’s been my dream job forever,” said Alya Allam, an intern in the program.

The internship ran for three weeks through a hybrid teaching program of in-person and online courses. The internship began on July 17 and continued until Aug. 7 in the Arab News headquarters in Riyadh.


Saudi Arabia leads condemnations of Israel’s storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque

Updated 08 August 2022

Saudi Arabia leads condemnations of Israel’s storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque

  • Saudi Arabia calls on international community to end escalation, protect Palestinians
  • Israel's Gaza bombardment earlier this week killed over 40 Palestinians

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Sunday condemned Israeli settlers storming Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard, in what the Kingdom called a “serious violation of international law.”

In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the international community to end the escalation and provide the necessary protection for Palestinian civilians.

The Kingdom said the attack violated the sanctity of the holy sites in Jerusalem, which contributes to exacerbating tensions and prolonging violence, amid escalations in Gaza that killed over 40 Palestinians and injured scores more this week.

Jordan, the custodian of the site, urged Israel to respect the sanctity of the compound and to “halt measures aimed at altering the historical and legal status quo.”

In a statement published on Petra news agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates’ spokesperson Haitham Abu Alfoul stressed that running the affairs of the holy site was exclusively under the jurisdiction of Jordanian-run Waqf (endowments) and al-Aqsa Affairs Administration in Jerusalem.

Abu Alfoul described Israel’s actions as a “violation of the historical and legal status quo and international law” and said it is a disrespect to the authority of the administration.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said it held the Israeli government fully and directly responsible for its ongoing aggression against Christian and Islamic holy sites, the foremost of which was Al-Aqsa, and for the danger posed to and repercussions for the entire region.

A statement issued by the Islamic Awqaf (affiliated with Jordan and in charge of the Al-Aqsa Mosque) and signed by other Islamic commissions in Jerusalem stated: “Barbarism, no matter how much, will not change the reality of the Islamic mosque.”

It said the Islamic bodies and authorities stress their adherence to and support for the guardianship of King Abdullah II over Al-Aqsa Mosque and all Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

Qatar’s foreign ministry said the “provocative practices” are part of the attempts to alter the historical and legal status of Al-Aqsa Mosque, calling on the international community to halt Israel’s attempts to transform the ongoing conflict into a “religious war.”

The ministry said the provocative violations that coincide with the recent attacks on Gaza will lead to “a dangerous escalation of violence.”  

Kuwait condemned the Israeli actions as an attempt to change the historical and legal status of Al-Quds and its sanctities.

In a statement, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned that the attacks would increase violence and tension and threaten the stability of the region. 

Kuwait also called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to curb these attacks, put an end to them and provide protection for the Palestinian people and their sanctities.

The Muslim World League also condemned the storming of the mosque, saying it was a serious violation of international resolutions and laws.

The League and its international councils, bodies and councils denounced the “dangerous escalation” that impacts on the sanctity of Islamic sites.

The chairman of the African Union commission also condemned Israeli “airstrike attacks” in the Gaza Strip as violence escalates in the troubled region.

“Moussa Faki Mahamat strongly condemns the continued airstrike attacks by Israel on Gaza,” an AU statement said.

The “targeting of civilians and the continued illegal occupation by Israeli security forces of the Occupied Territories, are in stark violation of international law, and complicate the search for a just and lasting solution,” the statement said.


Saudi Arabia ‘condemns, denounces’ Israeli attacks in Gaza

Updated 07 August 2022

Saudi Arabia ‘condemns, denounces’ Israeli attacks in Gaza

  • Health authorities in the Palestinian enclave said a five-year-old girl was among 15 people killed
  • Kingdom called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to end the escalation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Saturday condemned and denounced an attack carried out by the Israeli occupation forces on the Gaza Strip, Saudi Press Agency reported.

Israel’s military warned deadly air strikes against Palestinian militants in Gaza could last a week, as cross-border fire reverberated for a second day in the worst escalation since last year’s war.

The foreign ministry said that the Kingdom stands by the Palestinian people, and called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to end the escalation.

Health authorities in the Palestinian enclave, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, said a five-year-old girl was among 15 people killed since Friday, adding that more than 140 have been wounded.

Saudi Arabia also called on the international community to provide the necessary protection for civilians, and make all efforts to end the long-running conflict, the ministry added.


‘One of Not Many’ young female mentorship program launches in Saudi Arabia

Updated 08 August 2022

‘One of Not Many’ young female mentorship program launches in Saudi Arabia

  • Six leading Saudi women to advise students on business startups
  • Jeddah’s Dar Al-Hekma University to run 6-month course

JEDDAH: Luxury watch manufacturer Vacheron Constantin has launched its second “One of Not Many” business mentorship program in Saudi Arabia in partnership with Jeddah’s Dar Al-Hekma University.

The company had initially run its first project in the UAE in 2020.

Six Saudi women leaders have been selected to mentor undergraduate students over six months. The program is aligned with Saudi Vision 2030 and aims to encourage young people to become entrepreneurs.

Christophe Ramel, regional Brand Director Middle East at Vacheron Constantin, said: “The Kingdom represents huge promises and great potential, and the Maison values are aligned closely with Saudi Vision 2030.

“We, at Vacheron Constantin, realize the importance of passing down skills to the next generation to support the leaders of tomorrow. We wish all selected students a fruitful program ahead and look forward to witnessing them excel towards their career ambitions.”

Shahd Al-Shehail, entrepreneur and co-founder of Ethical Luxury Brand Abadia, said that the small choices people make every day matter and young people should continue to work hard and not be afraid of failure.

Aya Al-Bitar, Saudi product and furniture designer, and founder of AYA the Art of Living, said she would encourage students to explore their heritage and individuality if they choose to enter her field.

Emon Shakoor, founder and CEO of Blossom Accelerator, Saudi Arabia's first female-focused and inclusivity accelerator, said: “As an entrepreneur, it’s not about how much resources you have but about how resourceful you can be. Every individual has the power to create the life that they have dreamed of and to achieve it. This program will definitely allow the student to understand and execute the things that they actually want in life and never take no for an answer.”

Nora Aldabal, arts and creative industries executive director at The Royal Commission of AlUla, said: “Saudi Arabia is a gold mine of inspiration; inspiration attracts talent and talent gets ideas. This program will accelerate individuals to be the most creative version of themselves.”

Nouf Al-Moajil, strategic analyst and CEO of the Eastern Province Social Responsibility Council, said she would advise students to explore and follow their passion, even in a new area of business. They should try to be as authentic as possible, she said.

Basma El-Khereiji, chef and entrepreneur, and founder of the Social Kitchen, said students should be passionate about what they do and allow people to feel and appreciate it.

After successfully completing the program, students have the opportunity to embark on an internship program with Vacheron Constantin or any other Richemont Maison.

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Al-Ahsa steals the spotlight with creation of new authority

Updated 07 August 2022

Al-Ahsa steals the spotlight with creation of new authority

  • The world’s largest date palm oasis is generating a new era of prosperity

RIYADH: Al-Ahsa, the world’s largest date palm oasis, is generating a new era of prosperity following the launch of a new development authority.

On May 12, the Kingdom formed the board of directors for the Al-Ahsa Development Authority, headed by Prince Ahmed bin Fahd bin Salman, deputy governor of the Eastern Province.

The move aims to enhance the governorate’s potential while helping develop the tourism, heritage and cultural aspects of Al-Ahsa.

The authority will create a balanced and sustainable development environment that supports the governorate’s economy and promotes development, modernization and diversity, according to the state press agency.

“The decision reflects the leadership’s keenness to invest in the comparative advantage of Al-Ahsa and to utilize it in economic projects that will align with Vision 2030,” Ibraheem Alshekmubarak, secretary-general at Al-Ahsa Chamber of Commerce, said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

Ibraheem Alshekmubarak

The city of 1.3 million people was included in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in 2018.

UNESCO said: “The city has an ancient tradition of handicrafts, considered cultural and social practices passed on from generation to generation.

“Around 50 expressions of crafts and folk art have remained throughout the city’s history and bear witness to Al-Ahsa’s scenic wealth, including textiles from palm trees, pottery, weaving and joinery.”

Boosting tourism

The governorate hosts 36 weekly open markets and stages several festivals a year.

“When we talk about tourism in Al-Ahsa, we are talking about agricultural, heritage and natural tourism,” Alshekmubarak said.

In February 2022, the Ministry of Tourism launched a high-profile investment conference in the city called Destination Tomorrow.
The conference showcased Saudi destinations to local investors and international operators.

“Post pandemic, people are a little bit more conservative internationally regarding cross-border investment. But we are proving to be a destination attracting quite a decent amount of interest,” Mahmoud Abdulhadi, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister for investment attraction, told Arab News.

The Kingdom seeks to generate 10 percent of the gross domestic product from the tourism sector and to attract over 100 million visitors by the end of this decade, creating an additional 1 million jobs in the sector.

“We want to make the sector stand on its own two feet. So we are keen on large private sector investment to come in, even as we are mindful that the whole sector is built on small and medium enterprises,” added Abdulhadi.

The city’s chamber of commerce led several initiatives to support SMEs, monitoring the sectors most affected by the pandemic to keep them formulating plans and drawing strategies that help them overcome the damage.

“Al-Ahsa Chamber organized a set of development initiatives and advisory services provided to entrepreneurs through the Prince Ahmed bin Fahd bin Salman Center for Business Development,” Alshekmubarak added.

Airport expansion

Al-Ahsa airport’s capacity will more than double the expectations of fast regional growth, Fahad Alharbi, the CEO of Dammam Airports Co., said in an earlier interview with Arab News.

The city’s airport has a capacity of around 400,000 passengers but aspires to reach 1 million, Alharbi added.

Saudi Aramco mainly uses the facility, but before the pandemic struck, there was commercial activity from two or three local destinations and another two or three international sites.

“With the economic and tourism boom expected in Al-Ahsa, the development of Al-Ahsa International Airport is the most in need of projects at present,” said Alshekmubarak.

Business destination

Essam Al-Mulla

The city is already growing in businesses as the Ministry of Municipal Rural Affairs and Housing announced in June that the investment opportunities in the city increased by 53 percent in 2021, with 362 available options on its online portal.

The total value of these investments exceeded SR275 million, Essam Al-Mulla, the mayor of Al-Ahsa, told Arab News.

The available opportunities in the portal in 2022 already reached 112 investments, said the Saudi Minister of Municipal Rural Affairs and Housing Majid Al-Hogail, according to the Saudi Press Agency.