Four Hajj delegations leave besieged Gaza to Mecca

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Gaza – Over the past week, four batches of pilgrims departed from the Gaza Strip for Saudi Arabia to perform the rituals of Hajj.

About 6,600 people from Gaza and the West Bank left for Mecca to perform Hajj for 2023.

According to the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, the pilgrims travelled from Gaza during a four-day span, with 900 pilgrims in the first group, 900 on the second, 600 in the third, and 500 pilgrims on the fourth day.

Those travelling from the West Bank will get to Saudi Arabia through Jordan, while residents of the Gaza Strip went through Egypt.

The journey from Gaza Strip to Mecca starts from the Rafah land crossing, passing through Cairo’s airport, and from there to King Abdulaziz bin Saud Airport in Jeddah, and then to Mecca.

The Hajj is the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, required for all adult Muslims at least once.

Every year, millions of Muslims converge in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. Palestinians, especially those in besieged Gaza, often run into obstacles and delays because of Israeli restrictions.

In final pre-Hajj preparations, Fathia al-Hassanat, 58, from Khan Yunis south of the Gaza Strip, expressed her joy to perform the Hajj after a long wait.

“My feeling is indescribable. I had been hoping to perform Hajj for many years. Thank God, my name appeared in this year’s lottery,” said al-Hassanat, sitting next to her children who gathered the night before her travel.

At the same time, like other travellers in the Gaza Strip, al-Hassanat does not hide her concern about the difficulty of travelling through the Rafah crossing and the long hours of waiting until arriving at the Cairo airport.

“One of the greatest inconveniences in our lives as Palestinians in Gaza is that we have to spend more than 20 hours travelling from Gaza to Cairo, sometimes, to reach our destination. Our colleagues in the second regiment took a full 24 hours to reach the airport,” al-Hasnat added.

“Travelling from Gaza is a piece of torture, especially since most of the pilgrims are elderly and some of them suffer from chronic diseases.”

“But what solaces us is reaching our destination to perform Hajj this year,” she added while preparing her luggage.

Ahmed Abu al-Kass, 41, tried to register for Hajj five years ago without success, but this year, his name appeared on the list.

“When I received a phone call informing me that my name was accepted for Hajj, I cried out of joy,” Abu al-Kass said. “It was a great moment. I am excited about the spiritual atmosphere in Hajj, and we hope to God that our Hajj will be accepted.”

Abu al-Kass, who suffers from a chronic bone disease, has not tried the journey through the Rafah crossing before. He said he is worried because of what he hears about the obstacles to travelling through the Rafah crossing and long hours on the road, which may not be good for his health condition.

“Nevertheless, I am optimistic because we have heard about facilities for pilgrims’ travel by the Egyptian authorities. We hope this will be the case until we arrive in the airport.”

Abu al-Kass also referred to the high cost of Hajj, which is not commensurate with the difficult and deteriorating economic conditions in the Gaza Strip.

“I was collecting money penny by penny until I fulfilled my dream of performing Hajj. It was never easy, especially with responsibilities, children and a family, but they are all happy for me,” said Abu al-Kass surrounded by his five kids.

Samah al-Shurafa, 48, lost hope of going for Hajj this year because her name did not appear in the travel lottery twice. But luckily, her name appeared on the sick-people list as she is a cancer patient.

“I was diagnosed with cancer a year ago. I suffered a lot,” al-Shurafa told Al Jazeera while sitting in her home.

“So I wanted to register to relieve myself. I registered on the general lists and on the patient list. Alhamdolliah, my name lastly appeared with my eldest son, who is 30 years old.”

Under the lottery system introduced by Saudi Arabia, pilgrims are asked to apply online if they wish to perform Hajj. People are selected based on an electronic draw system.

In 2022, Saudi Arabia allowed one million pilgrims from around the world – including 850,000 foreigners.

Al-Shurafa did not express any reservations about travelling through the Rafah crossing, despite the long distance from the Gaza Strip to Cairo.

“I am excited about Hajj this year, and I hope to God that it will be a year of goodness and blessings, and the conditions in the Gaza Strip will improve and the complexities of the blockade and other life’s troubles will end.”