Confusion as Bangladesh drops ‘except Israel’ from new passports

Published May 24, 2021
The Bangladeshi passport earlier had a note written on it that said it was acceptable for travel to all countries of the world except Israel. — AFP/File
The Bangladeshi passport earlier had a note written on it that said it was acceptable for travel to all countries of the world except Israel. — AFP/File

Bangladeshi passports will no longer bear the text “valid for all countries of the world except Israel,” officials confirmed on Sunday.

The Bangladeshi passport earlier had a note written on it that said it was acceptable for travel to all countries of the world except Israel. A number of countries, including Pakistan, have a similar restriction for travel to Israel in their passports.

But a few months ago, Bangladesh dropped the words "except Israel" from the new electronic passports.

Since the South Asian Muslim-majority country came into being in 1971, it has openly affirmed its position in favour of Palestine and against the Israeli oppression in the occupied Palestinian territories.

During the recent attacks on the Palestinians by Israeli forces, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen confirmed the country’s support for the struggle of Palestinians and condemned the Israeli aggression against civilians.

Recent tensions that started in East Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramazan spread to Gaza as a result of Israeli assaults on worshippers in the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

Israel launched airstrikes that killed at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children and 39 women, and injured more than 1,900 others. Health authorities in the West Bank also confirmed that 31 people were killed in the occupied region, totalling 279 across all Palestinian territories.

Confusion

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, said that the timing of disclosing this development was a major factor that caused confusion among citizens of the country.

“Recently, when some Muslim countries forged relations with Israel, Bangladesh expressed its support to the Palestinian cause. So I don’t think that withdrawing two words from the passports will shake Bangladesh’s long-standing moral position on the Israel-Palestine conflict,” Ahmed said.

He noted that there is no Israeli embassy in Bangladesh and no bilateral trade between the two countries. “On the other hand, Bangladeshi authorities have been allowing the Palestinian Embassy in Dhaka for years,” he added.

The academic said Bangladesh has been supporting a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict with strong opposition to the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, adding: “I hope that Bangladesh will never change this position.”

Arifur Rahman Tuhin, a journalist and pro-Palestinian campaigner, told Anadolu Agency that Bangladesh’s founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had taken a strong pro-Palestine stance which was followed by all successive rulers.

“But such a sudden decision that came at a time when Bangladesh is marking its golden anniversary of independence and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rahman is unacceptable,” Tuhin said.

He, however, applauded the Bangladeshi government for condemning the recent Israeli attacks on the Palestinians, and expressed hope that the country will continue its opposition to the Israeli aggression in the greater interest of humanity and justice.

No change in foreign policy

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said the words “except Israel” have been withdrawn from the passports for “administrative convenience”.

“This has nothing to do with the foreign policy of Bangladesh, Momen maintained, adding that the decision was taken six months ago.

“This move will not affect our position ... We are strong supporters of Palestine,” he said.

Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Bangladeshi foreign ministry on Sunday evening also urged people not to get confused over a tweet by an Israeli foreign ministry official.

Gilad Cohen, the Israeli foreign ministry's deputy director general for Asia and the Pacific, said on Twitter: "Great news! #Bangladesh has removed travel ban to Israel. This is a welcome step & I call on the Bangladeshi government to move forward and establish diplomatic ties with #Israel so both our peoples could benefit & prosper."

The Bangladeshi foreign ministry statement, however, clarified: “The removal of the observation has been done to maintain international standard of Bangladeshi e-passports and does not imply any change of Bangladesh’s foreign policy towards the Middle East.”

“The ban on travel of Bangladeshi passport holders to Israel remains unchanged. The Government of Bangladesh has not deviated from its position on Israel and Bangladesh remains firm on its long-standing position in this regard,” it added.

Reiterating its condemnation of the recent Israeli attacks on the Palestinians at Al-Aqsa Mosque and in the Gaza Strip, the statement said: “Bangladesh reiterates its principled position concerning the Two-State Solution of the Palestine-Israel conflict in light of the UN resolutions recognising pre-1967 borders and East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian Ambassador in Dhaka Yousef SY Ramadan told local media on Sunday that the omission of the words "except Israel" from the Bangladeshi passport is “unacceptable”.

“I’m aware of the development. Every country has the sovereign right to take decision on passport or any other issues. Having admitted that, I would say this decision is unacceptable to us,” Ramadan added.

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