By Ola Attallah – Gaza
Political wrangling and divisions threaten to hijack the hajj dream of 2200 people in the Gaza Strip and prevent them from joining millions of fellow Muslims in making the spiritual journey.
"We are falling prey to political differences and divisions," said a tearful Suhaila Raafat, 46.
"We just want to perform hajj," she told IslamOnline.net.
Raafat joined hundreds of fellow would-be pilgrims who marched on Wednesday, November 20, to demand their hajj visas.
"Don’t deprive us of hajj" and "keep hajj from politics" they chanted, carrying pictures of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The Hamas-led government in Gaza accuses the West Bank government of President Mahmoud Abbas of denying visas to Gaza pilgrims.
"Saudi Arabia and the West Bank government refuse to give us the password to process and register our pilgrims," Abdullah Abu-Garboua, the undersecretary of the Gaza Awqaf Ministry, told IOL.
He said every year a protocol is signed with the Saudi government determining the number of pilgrims and visa granting procedures.
"We were the party to sign the protocol in he past two year," recalls Abu-Garboua.
"But this year, the West Bank government signed the protocol and is refusing to give us the password to register the pilgrims, which is the same position of the Saudis."
The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are being governed by rival administrations loyal to Hamas and Fatah.
Tensions between the two groups have mounted since Hamas trounced once-dominant Fatah in the 2006 parliamentary elections.
The feud developed into street battles last year, leaving Gaza under Hamas and the West Bank under Fatah.
The Gaza government appealed to Saudi Arabia to intervene to resolve the stand-off.
"We hope to get the password to complete the registration procedures," said Abu-Garboua.
"We have already completed all preparations including transportation and accommodation for the pilgrims."
Awad Madkour, the head of Gaza travel agencies association, is hopeful King Abdullah would intervene.
"Hajj should not be linked to political differences between the West Bank and Gaza governments."
But many remain skeptical they would be able to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
"Every morning, I go to the travel agency, but I hear the same answer ‘no news’," says Abu-Raed Felfel, 54.
"The problem is still unsolved and there is no hope in the horizon."
Every able-bodied adult Muslim — who can financially afford the trip — must perform hajj at least once in their lifetime.
"Don’t we suffer enough under the yoke of the occupation," fumes Saed Al-Sawafiri, a Palestinian elder.
"Who knows if I will be around next year if I do not form hajj this year."
– Ola Attallah is a correspondent for IslamOnline in Gaza. (Originally published in IslamOnline.net)