Why Did Islamic Society of North America Promote Travel to Occupied Palestine? #BDS

لا-للتطبيعI’ve previously written about USA Muslim responses to Zionist atrocities in Palestine and surrounding lands. I don’t understand why some USA Muslims want to pretend that their being Muslims gives them some privilege to discuss anything related to Palestinians, especially when they fail to acknowledge Palestinians’ struggle for restoration of their rights.

The publication in the Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA) November/December 2018 issue of Islamic Horizons of an article promoting Muslim tourism in occupied Palestine was an especially terrible example of this.

The article’s author is Misbahuddin Mirza, who also wrote articles for the previous issue of the magazine on a variety of topics. In the article about travel in Palestine, he is identified as

a licensed professional engineer who served as the regional quality control engineer for the New York State Department of Transportation’s New York City area [and] the author of the iBook “Illustrated Muslim Travel Guide to Jerusalem” and has written for major U.S. and Indian publications.

Here’s some passages from this atrocious article:

A harmless looking-wall stretching to the horizon ran parallel to the highway. The [Jewish squatter from [sic] Kazakhstan]driver responded that this was the Separation Wall (also known as the Security Fence); many non-Israelis call it the Apartheid Wall.

The taxi made its way toward Old Jerusalem. We didn’t need to be told that we were now in the Muslim area – unplanned, shabby-looking buildings were everywhere, heavily congested commercial space competed with residential space, littered streets and putrid smells emanating from overflowing trash dumpsters.

The hotel was certainly not four-star, but I wouldn’t have stayed anywhere else because this location allowed me to experience first hand the lives of the Palestinians, their culture, quiet dignity and courage in the face of overwhelming colonization.

Just inside the Damascus Gate is a crowded marketplace full of vegetables and fruits, trinkets and souvenirs, clothes and countless other items. One would never see such an impoverished area even in any of India’s small city marketplaces. And yet the area had the fascinating old world charm of Mamluk architecture that makes one immune to the stench and the puddles. But the most striking feature is the neatly dressed people, who carry themselves around with amazing dignity and self-respect.

After describing some Zionist entity security procedures, Misbahuddin Mirza concludes:

I told the officer at the final door [of the airport upon departure] that he was the first Israeli I had met who spoke English without a regional accent (he had a British accent). He smiled and thanked me. Wow! In less than 48 hours I was able to make two Israelis smile.

Is there any Palestinian statement on Muslims traveling to occupied Palestine, ostensibly to do pilgrimage at al-Masjid al-Aqsa? The original call of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement doesn’t mention al-Aqsa or tourism. In my mind, tourism, whether for religious or non-religious purposes, is a form of the normalization which supports the Zionist dispossession of Palestinians.

In the Palestinian context, normalization refers to any activity that creates the impression that Israel is a state like any other and that Palestinians, the oppressed, and Israel, the oppressor, are both equally responsible for “the conflict”. Far from challenging the unjust status quo, such projects contribute to its endurance, are intellectually dishonest and should be boycotted. An example of a boycottable normalization project would be a joint event that is designed explicitly to bring together Palestinians/Arabs and Israelis so they can present their respective narratives or perspectives, or to work toward reconciliation without addressing the root causes of injustice. However, a joint project is not boycottable if: (a) the Israeli party in the project recognizes the comprehensive Palestinian rights under international law (corresponding to the 3 rights in the BDS call); and (b) the project/activity is one of “co-resistance” to oppression rather than “co-existence” under oppression.

When I Googled “bds pilgrimate aqsa”, one of the results was VisitMasjidAlAqsa.com.

This website claimed that the Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Husayn,  specifically called for Muslims worldwide to visit al-Aqsa. An October 6, 2018 article from Malaysia contained this call for pilgrimage to Jerusalem. An article in the October 18, 2018 Masrawy.com also asserted that tourism to al-Aqsa wasn’t the normalization the BDS movement condemned.

فالزيارة للقدس تدعم صمود المواطن المقدسي، وليست تطبيعًا مع الكيان الصهيوني، وتؤكد أمام كل العالم أن أبناء الأمتين العربية والإسلامية يتمسكون بالقدس كعقيدة والمسجد الأقصى كمكان لعبادة المسلمين، ويتمسكون بكل تاريخهم وحضارتهم، فنحن نشجع ونرحب بكل هذه المبادرات الداعية للزيارة الواعية والرشيدة للقدس

An interesting phrase in this interview is “a conscious and wise visit to Jerusalem.”

In my opinion, because of the USA’s preeminent role in support the Zionist colonization of Palestine, it behooves USA residents who support Palestinians to call for BDS, and this obligation is more pressing than any religious obligation or merit or person-to-person solidarity achieved by visiting al-Aqsa.

I hope that Palestinians more knowledgeable about their issue would discuss more fully their thoughts on Muslims’ pilgrimages to Jerusalem and under what conditions such visits might constitute solidarity. For example, is the work of Palestine Initiative for Responsible Tourism (PIRT) a good guide for USA Muslims who decide to travel to Palestine?

I’m no scholar, but I don’t think a Muslim should submit himself or herself to the disgusting and humiliating measures of the Zionist military apparatus unless there is a pressing need, and I can’t see ziyara to al-Aqsa as a pressing need.

I’m also troubled by the idea that a Muslim from the United Kingdom or Indonesia or the United States can travel to Jerusalem but a Palestinian from Gaza or al-Khalil can’t.

My question to ISNA is this: Did you consult Palestinians active in solidarity movements before publishing this article and promoting travel to areas controlled by the Zionist entity? Does the language of this article indicate that travel under the guidance of Misbahuddin Mirza would be “conscious and wise” support of Palestinians?

Another important consideration which I didn’t address in this article is how USA Muslims, through such discourse regarding al-Aqsa, marginalize Palestinian Christians.

P.S. Here’s a video on Facebook in which somebody claims that an imam from al-Masjid al-Aqsa invites people to visit.

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