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Israel. Saudi Arabia, Jordan Cooperating on Pilgrimage

Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are partners in a move to enable large numbers of Israeli Arab citizens to make the “hadj” (pilgrimage) this autumn to Moslem holy cities of Mecca and Medina. But who officially made the agreement and where it was consumated are among factors not yet being publicly revealed.

“This is one Middle East case where it looks like it’s going to work and you don’t ask too many questions,” a State Department source intimate with the arrangements told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The arrangements, he acknowledged reluctantly, have “the blessing of the United States,” but added that he could not say whether the U.S. was an intermediary. He made it clear, however, that representatives of the three countries never met about the matter. Discussion took place in a roundabout way.

“In principle, Saudi Arabia and Jordan would like the Israeli Moslems to make the hadj as a matter of good will, and procedures to that end are being worked out” the JTA was told at the State Department. Israel, in principle, it was said there, never had any major problem with the pilgrimage which pious Moslems try to make at least once in their lifetime. Israel’s only major problem was whether Saudi Arabia would accept Israeli passports. Now, apparently, this matter has been temporarily adjusted.

CREDIT GIVEN TO SENATOR STONE

State Department and Capitol Hill sources give much credit to Sen. Richard Stone (D. Fla.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East, for forwarding the arrangement. While in the Mideast on official business in June, 1977, Stone was told in Amman by Jordanian officials about the situation relating to the hadj and they suggested he help them. Stone brought up the matter with Saudi Arabia’s King Knalid and later with the Israelis. Arrangements to solve the problem were put in motion.

Last week, in a letter dated July 20, the State Department reported to Stone that “progress” has been made. The letter, signed by William Crawford, acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East, added:

“We have learned the governments of Israel and Saudi Arabia have agreed to facilitate the travel of some 5000 Israeli Moslems to Mecca in October of this year. We have been told that when the pilgrims arrive in Amman, the Jordanians plan to issue special travel documents to them. We have also received indications that consideration will be given to expanding the present number of travelers in order to permit additional pilgrims to make the journey in future years.”

Continuing, the letter to Stone stated: “We are heartened by the positive outcome of your efforts to promote the liberalization process and know that the satisfactory resolution of this problem will be deeply appreciated by the many pilgrims who can now avail themselves of this opportunity.”

FIRST TIME IN 30 YEARS

After receiving the letter from Crawford, Stone said “thousands” of Israeli Moslems will go to the holy cities this autumn for the first time in 30 years “thanks to a decision” by Khalid. Stone said he asked “a religious favor” from Khalid when they met in Saudi Arabia.

Last year, initial talks resulted in four Israeli Moslems making the hadj while negotiations continued, Stone said. This year, as many as 5000 are likely to go, according to the Senator’s information. Some 2500 of Israel’s 411,000 Moslem citizens have applied, Stone said. The deadline for applications is Aug. 7. “The success of this initiative shows that the Saudis are thoughtful and sympathetic leaders of Islam and that disputes among nations can be overcome by the higher obligations of religious worship,” Stone observed.

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