Christian and Muslim Indonesians are being joined by Israel’s tourism industry in protesting a decision by the Foreign Ministry to bar Indonesian tourists from visiting the Holy Land.
The ban was made in response to the Muslim nation blocking Israelis from going there. Indonesia decided to refuse entry to Israeli tourists after last month’s protests in Gaza left about 60 Palestinians dead. Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded by barring tourists from Indonesia — including those already booked to come this summer. The ban will go into effect on June 26.
Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, but had allowed pilgrims to visit — a move that, according to Monique Rijkers, a Christian and former journalist from Indonesia, had “built goodwill towards Israel and Israelis.” Now, she fears, Israel is “closing the door.”
“Although our countries have no diplomatic relations, I strongly believed in the wisdom of the Israeli government opening its doors for Christian and Muslim pilgrims, and secular tourists, from Indonesia,” she wrote in the Times of Israel.
“Please do not let our citizenship status affect our faith, and how we express it. Israel is a promised land – not only for Israelis, but for Christians all over the world. Israel is our land too, where the prophet whom we believe as the messenger from God, our Lord Jesus, was born.”
Travel companies expect to face huge financial losses from this move. An estimated 30,000 Indonesians have visited annually over the last few years with an average stay of five nights.
“The economic damage to Israeli [tour] operators, hotels, bus companies, tour guides and many other tour agents is insufferable,” according to Yossi Fattal, director general of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association. “Plane tickets have been purchased and obligations to hotels and other service providers have been paid, and now in light of the sweeping decision, huge economic damage has been caused.”
Sana Srouji of Jerusalem-based Eternity Travel explained that 70 percent of her company’s work is comprised of Indonesian tourism. She was expecting some 3,000 Indonesian Christian pilgrims to visit this year — 2,200 this month alone.
“These are people who love Israel and want to visit and also contribute considerable money,” she said. “They are tourists who have already bought airlines tickets and now will have to cancel everything and won’t receive compensation.”
“We are talking here about twelve people losing their jobs and leaving their families with no income,” she explained.
Emmanuel Nahshon, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told The Media Line that Israel will not rescind its ban until Jakarta does.