Israel to Face 'Insufferable Losses' After It Bans Indonesian Pilgrims in Retaliatory Move

Around 30,000 Indonesians visit Israel every year. After Indonesia closed its borders to Israeli tourists in the wake of Gaza violence, the Foreign Ministry decided to retaliate with the same measures

Christian pilgrims from Indonesia visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditional site of Jesus' crucifixion and tomb,  in Jerusalem's Old City, 2015
Olivier Fitoussi

Indonesia, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, decided to bar Israelis from visiting the country in the aftermath of last month's killings of Palestinians on the border with Gaza. In response, the Foreign Ministry retaliated by barring tourists from Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, from visiting Israel, as of Saturday of this week.

The Foreign Ministry's decision will deprive the Israeli tourism sector of the business of an estimated 30,000 Indonesians a year, mostly members of Indonesia's Christian minority. In an effort to head off the loss of business from Indonesian tourists, the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association has sought an urgent meeting with government officials over the losses that Israel's tour operators will be suffering as a result and to asking the Foreign Ministry to reconsider its decision.

"The economic damage to Israeli [tour] operators, hotels, bus companies, tour guides and many other tour agents is insufferable. 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," the association's director general, Yossi Fattal, wrote, pinning the blame entirely on the Israeli government and its policy.

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The office of Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said he also believes the Foreign Ministry's decision was a mistake, adding that he has called on the ministry to retract the move. 

Indonesian tourists in Jerusalem
Olivier Fitoussi

Sana Srouji, who heads Jerusalem-based Eternity Travel, said in June alone, her company was expecting more than 2,200 Indonesian Christian pilgrims who now cannot enter the country.

"These are people who love Israel and want to visit and also contribute considerable money. They are tourists who have already bought airlines tickets and now will have to cancel everything and won't receive compensation." Explaining that hers is one of 11 Israeli firms specializing in Indonesian tourism, she said "for us this means bankruptcy for this market, which provides us 70 percent of our work."

The ban also affects tour guides who have studied Indonesian as well as bus drivers, hotels and tourist sites, Srouji said, adding that the beneficiaries of the Israeli Foreign Ministry's decision will be the tourist industries in neighboring countries, notably Egypt, Jordan and Turkey.

"We have tried to work with the Tourism Ministry, which said nothing can be done. We expect at least to be able to obtain the visas for June that we applied for, after people have already made hotel reservations and finalized tours," Srouji insisted.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin
Emil Salman

Inbal Herziger Tantzer, one of the more than 30 licensed Israeli Indonesian-speaking tour guides, said Indonesian speakers represent 98 percent of the groups that she handles. She said she began working with the groups during the second intifada, which broke out in 2000, because they continued to come to the country, and although she initially spoke to them in English, she then studied Indonesian.

"These are groups that love Israel and there is almost not a single group that leaves Israel without Israeli flags and pictures posing with soldiers," she claimed.