With additional reporting by Ahmed Rilwan
A group of 30 people have held a motorbike rally for the fourth consecutive night in Malé urging the government to ban tourists from Israel.
The group – consisting mostly of men – set off from the Social Center on Majeedhee Magu at 11:00 pm on Thursday night. They carried megaphones and black flags with the Shahadha or the Islamic creed declaring the oneness of Allah and the acceptance of Mohamed as Allah’s prophet.
“Expel Israeli tourists!” they chanted and also called for the expulsion of anyone who assists Israel.
The serial protests come in the aftermath of a tourist vandalizing an anti-Israeli placard featuring the swastika along with the Israeli flag on the island of Thulusdhoo on Monday night.
A few hours later, a group of men from from Malé went to Thulusdhoo to demand Israelis be expelled from the country. Subsequently, the Maldives Police Services had to evacuate 34 tourists from the island.
Anti Israeli sentiment has been growing in the Maldives with the mounting death toll in Gaza. Over 1400 people have been killed in the war, Palestinian officials have said.
Protestors in Malé have vowed to continue rallying until the government bans tourists from Israel.
Rally organizer and religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf’s President Sheikh Abdulla bin Muhammad refused to speak to Minivan News, alleging irreligious content on the website – a claim Minivan News has consistently denied.
On previous nights, Israeli flags were burnt and protestors gathered in front of Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed’s residence. However, police have now set up barricades infront of the minister’s house and protestors were prevented from accessing the area on Thursday.
The police, in a statement on Wednesday, called on the public to refrain from any acts that may cause anxiety to tourists.
Noting the growth of guesthouse tourism on Thulusdhoo, police said any unrest on the island will affect local businesses. Tourists’ safety must be assured, the police said, adding that unrest may cause irreparable damage to the country’s economic mainstay.
Nine guesthouses have now been registered in the Thulusdhoo. The island – just forty minutes from Malé – is home to one of the countries’ top surf breaks, with a majority of bookings coming from Israeli surfer.s
Mohamed Hashim, a local guesthouse owner, said approximately 60 percent of his bookings came from Israelis.
“It is a big blow for our business. There are three months of surfing left. I don’t know what we will do now,” he told Minivan News on Tuesday.
President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali was not responding at the time of press.
Minister at the President’s Office Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Shareef told the AFP on Thursday that Israelis must remember they are visiting a 100 percent Muslim country.
“We have not banned them, but Israeli tourists must remember that they are visiting a 100% Muslim country,” Shareef said. “We unequivocally and unconditionally support the Palestinian cause.”
On July 21, the government announced a boycott – admittedly symbolic – of Israeli products and the annulment of all cooperation agreements signed since the resumption of diplomatic ties in 2009.
“I do not think Maldivians want any help from Israel or want to keep up relations with Israel,” said Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon who has described recent attacks on UN shelters in Gaza as “cowardly and shameful”.
During last week’s meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, the Maldives joined 28 other member states in calling for an independent inquiry into Israel’s violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in Palestine.
An estimated 13,000 marching through the capital Malé in solidarity with Palestinians earlier in July. Smaller demonstrations were held throughout the country.
Maldivian citizens have also donated over MVR2million (US$130,000) to the Gaza Fund which will be distributed via the Qatari Red Crescent after August 17.