By Mohammad Ben Hussein published on The Jordan Times
Picture from TripAdvisor
AMMAN – Anti-normalisation activists on Saturday urged Jordanians to refrain from visiting Jerusalem and other sites in Palestine for religious purposes, but travel agents insisted they were within their rights to offer tour packages to these sites.
Hamzah Mansour, president of the National Committee for Anti-Normalisation, said the committee is considering holding a public event to condemn tourism to Palestine.
In a statement posted on the Islamic Action Front website, Mansour criticised travel agents who promote tours to Jerusalem and called for an end to this practice.
“We noticed an increase in the number of visits to Israel under the pretext of seeing holy sites in Jerusalem and other places. This must stop because it is an act of normalisation,” said Mansour, who insists that obtaining a visa from the Israeli embassy in Amman is recognition of Israel’s existence.
The Islamist movement opposes peace with Israel and refuses to recognise it.
Mansour, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood shura council and a former MP, accused travel agents of “preying on religious sentiments” by promoting travel to Israel.
Jerusalem is holy to all three monotheistic religions, being home to Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians believe to be the site of Christ’s death and resurrection.
This is the second time in less than two months that activists have spoken out against visits to Israel through tour packages.
There are no official figures on the number of Jordanians who visited Israel for religious purposes, but activists say more such trips were organised last year than in 2008.
Travel agents, however, insist they have committed no wrongdoing.
A travel agent from the city of Fuheis, who preferred not to be named, said the decision whether or not to travel to Palestine should be left up to individual people.
“We don’t force anybody. This is a personal decision. People have the freedom to do what they want. Moreover, even if these places are under Israeli occupation, we must see them because they belong to us, not the Jews,” he told The Jordan Times.
Professional associations and activists from the Islamist movement have been campaigning against any form of normalisation with Israel since the war against Gaza one year ago.
In November, several members of the Jordan Engineers Association (JEA) faced threats of expulsion from their association after having their passports stamped by Israel at the King Hussein Bridge crossing.
The engineers, who had travelled to Ramallah to attend a conference in support of their Palestinian colleagues, were not penalised because Israeli officers had stamped their passports “without their consent or knowledge”, JEA President Abdullah Obeidat said at the time.
Professional associations and opposition parties have spearheaded the anti-normalisation drive since the Kingdom signed the Wadi Araba Peace Treaty in 1994.