Maldives calls for action against Israeli leaders

The Maldives called on the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israel during its military offensive in Gaza last year and urged “prompt action to be taken against Israel and its leaders.”

The Maldives made the call in a statement delivered at the 29th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council at an interactive dialogue with the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict.

“The Maldives also noted with deep regret the complete non-cooperation of Israel with the Commission, where the Israeli Government did not allow the Commission to enter the territories,” the foreign ministry said in a statement today.

“The Maldives condemned the well planned attacks, which were carried out during very specific times, such as ‘iftar’ and ‘suhoor’ – the Ramadan meal times, which maximised the number of civilian casualties.”

The Maldives also called on Israel to “respect the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine to self-determination and statehood.”

The foreign ministry explained that the United Nations Human Rights Council considers the plight and situation of human rights of the people of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, under item seven of its agenda, “which faces resistance from the United States of America and some Western States.”

“The Maldives has on every occasion reiterated its strong position that Agenda Item 7 should continue, as long as the occupation continues,” the foreign ministry said.

In August last year, the Maldivian media organised a ‘Help Gaza’ telethon and raised a record MVR29.4 million (US$1.91 million). The funds have since been used by the International Federation of Red Crescent (IFRC) to construct 100 housing units in Gaza for displaced Palestinian families.

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Housing units from Gaza fund to be completed by end of January: Red Crescent

The Maldives Red Crescent has revealed that the housing units built in Gaza using the money collected in the Maldives through the Gaza fund will be completed by the end of January, reports local media.

CNM reported that the houses built by the Red Crescent are to home 100 families, and that they are being built near the rubble of houses destroyed during last year’s conflict with Israel.

US$1.9 million was collected from the Maldives for the Gaza fund through donation boxes set out across the islands as well as the proceeds of a media telethon.

CNM also reported that the funds have allowed for the purchase of medicine from Jordan, which has been handed over to Jordan’s Haashimee Charitable Association to be transferred to Gaza.

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Israeli tourists evacuated from Thulusdhoo after local unrest

Security services evacuated 34 tourists from Kaafu Thulusdhoo Island following unrest after an Israeli tourist destroyed an anti-Israel placard yesterday (July 28).

Thirty Israeli tourists, and four of other nationalities, agreed to be evacuated last night after police intelligence revealed that more protesters were travelling to the island to join those calling for the guests’ removal.

Managing Director of the Batuta Maldives Surf View Mohamed Hashim said the incident occurred outside his guest house, after an Israeli surfer took down a placard featuring a swastika alongside the Israeli flag and snapped it in two.

Anti-Israeli sentiment has been growing in the Maldives as the escalating conflict between Israel and Palestinians continues to result in heavy civilian casualties in Gaza.

As news of yesterday’s incident spread locals became agitated, explained Hashim, who subsequently informed Island Council President Ahmed Anees. Anees then contacted the police.

Around 30 additional protesters subsequently travelled to Thulusdhoo from Malé and were detained upon arrival, said Anees, being kept at the local station and the island’s social centre.

“Police intelligence said that more were coming from Malé,” explained Anees. “They said it was the best thing that they leave for the night.”

A police spokesperson has said that they provided assistance to the Thulusdhoo Island Council and the Ministry of Tourism, although they declined to give further details.

Neither Anees nor Hashim were certain of the guests’ current whereabouts while officials from the tourism ministry were not responding to calls at the time of publication.

Anees explained that 10 tourists – all non Israelis remained in – the island, while those protesters detained by police were released after the Israeli tourists’ evacuation at midnight yesterday.

Thulusdhoo guest houses

Nine guesthouses have been registered in Thulusdhoo since the relaxation of guest house policy in an industry still dominated by the high end one island/one resort model.

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 surfers, explained Council President Anees.

“This is a big loss for us because most of the people depend on guest houses,” he explained, pointing out that this type of incident was unprecedented on the island.

“It is a calm island. Only a few people were involved in this thing,” he explained, suggesting that the unrest had been fomented by outsiders from Malé.

Guest house manager Hashim – who lost all 8 of his guests last night – also suggested that the incident may have been due to the large number of non-locals present on the island for the Eid holiday.

“There have been no problems since we opened two years ago. Tourists are always very friendly with locals,” said Hashim who noted that around 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.”

Israeli tourists represent only a small fraction of tourist arrivals to the Maldives, making up just 0.3 percent of the more than one million people who visited the country in 2013.

Anti-Israeli sentiment

The incident in Thulusdhoo was followed by small but vocal protests in the capital Malé during which protesters burned the Israeli flag.

Maldivians have been increasingly active in their calls for an end to the bloodshed in Gaza, with an estimated 13,000 marching through the capital Malé in solidarity with Palestinians earlier this month. Smaller demonstrations were held throughout the country.

Last week 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.

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.

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More than MVR2 million donated to Gaza fund

A total of MVR2.3million (US$149,157) and US$8,089 has been donated to the Gaza fund set up by the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) to provide financial assistance to Palestinians affected by the ongoing Israeli military aggression.

In addition to fund boxes placed in the capital Malé and other islands across the country, according to the AP, dollar and rufiyaa accounts have been opened in the Bank of Maldives and the Islamic Bank of Maldives to collect donations.

Fund raising activities are set to continue till August 17, after which the proceeds will be channeled through the Qatari Red Crescent.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon issued a statement on Thursday (July 24) condemning the Israeli bombing of a United Nations shelter in Beit Hanoun, Palestine.

“It is a cowardly and shameful act on the part of Israel to target a UN shelter whose exact coordinates were given to the Israeli military by the UN. It again underscores the need for the UN Security Council to take urgent and stronger actions against Israel. The international community has a duty to put pressure on Israel to stop the killing and to end the crippling blockade of Gaza,” she was quoted as saying in a foreign ministry statement.

The statement noted that the Maldives co-sponsored a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council last week to establish an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate “atrocities” committed by Israel in the ongoing conflict, which has seen more than 800 people killed.

Following an announcement by the government last week of its intention to boycott Israeli imports, Commissioner General of Customs Ahmed Mohamed told local media on Thursday that the import ban has now been enforced.

“From today, any attempt to import Israeli products will be blocked, and the importer will be given the chance to re-export, failing which the products will be destroyed,” he told Sun Online.

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Maldives to boycott Israeli products, annul bilateral agreements

The Government of Maldives has today announced the boycott of Israeli products and the annulment of bilateral agreements with the country.

“President Yameen and the Maldivian citizens are with the Palestinian people”, said Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon at a press conference this afternoon.

Dunya also announced that the Maldives would join other Arab nations in co-sponsoring a resolution at this week’s special session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) calling for the protection of an independent Palestinian state and the extension of humanitarian aid.

As well as an admittedly “symbolic” boycott of Israeli products, three agreements – signed in 2009 under the administration of President Mohamed Nasheed – would now be annulled, explained the foreign minister.

The agreements involved cooperation in areas of health, culture and education, and tourism.

“I do not think Maldivians want any help from Israel or want to keep up relations with Israel. So from now on, the agreements have been annulled,” she said.

While she noted that neither that former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom nor the current government believed in maintaining such relations, she stopped short of announcing the severing of diplomatic ties.

Criticising Nasheed for having established diplomatic relations with Israel, Dunya said that his current statements in support of the Palestinians could not now be accepted.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in 2009, Nasheed argued that renewed diplomatic relations with Israel would be used to reiterate the Maldives’ support for a two state solution.

Boycott

Acknowledging the impact of the Maldives’ boycott would be small, Dunya today noted that other small nations had done likewise with symbolic acts that had been appreciated by the Palestinian government.

“Even though what we give is small or symbolic, the way it is received is important. The message we want to give is we are with the Palestinian people,” said Dunya.

Explaining the boycott, Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, minister at the President’s Office, said the government would soon announce a moratorium on the import of Israeli goods into the country after discussions with the Ministry of Economic Development and Maldives Customs Services.

While the government is calling on businessmen to join the boycott, it will still be possible for some Israeli products to enter the Maldives as the country does not check for the country of origin or manufacturers of imported products. Even so, the government will remove such products from shops in accordance with the Customs Act.

Shareef said that the Maldives may consider lifting the moratorium if the Israeli government’s violation of international resolutions stop.

Regarding other economic links, he noted that there were few tourists arriving in the Maldives from Israel and that there were no Israeli investments in the country.

“Israeli investment is not important for us. We want investments from countries with human rights practices that are acceptable to us,” said Shareef.

Israeli tourists – numbering 2,569 in 2013 – constituted 0.3 percent of total tourist arrivals. In June 2014, 254 Israeli tourists visited Maldives, a 72 percent increase from 12 months earlier.

Domestic pressure

At home, the government remains under pressure from both the opposition and civil society who have called for bolder action concerning the recent escalation of violence in Gaza.

After the opposition leader Nasheed called on human rights defenders to raise their voices against “indiscriminate killings in Gaza”, his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) held a rally on July 12 in Malé criticising the government’s initial silence.

On the same day, President Abdulla Yameen phoned Palestinian President Dr Mahmoud Abbas to condemn “Israel’s inhuman actions”, and pledged to do everything necessary in the international arena to aid Palestinians.

Days later, thousands of Maldivians from all sides of the political spectrum gathered across the country to rally in protest against the Israeli offensive.

Nasheed has since called on MDP members to take the initiative and go to Gaza in order to act as a “human shields” protecting Palestinians.

Those who organised the nationwide rally are currently circulating a petition to be submitted to the People’s Majlis calling for a resolution to be passed by MPs.

Speaking to Minivan News, a member of the group said that over 8000 signatures had been collected in just two evenings. Working alongside civil society organisations in the atolls and local councils, many more were expected.

A second online petition has also been launched calling on the government to use Maldives’ seat in the UN HRC to request an investigation into human rights violations in Israel and Palestine and to hold discussions to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party, along with 11 civil society organisations, had established a donation fund to assist Palestinians affected by the ongoing conflict.

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Over MVR300,000 donated to Gaza Fund in two days

Over MVR300,000 (US$19,455) has been donated in the first two days to a “Gaza Fund” set up by the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) to provide financial assistance to Palestinians affected by the ongoing Israeli aggression.

According to the party, a total of MVR317,364.60 and US$1,346 has been collected as of yesterday (July 19).

Fund boxes have been placed across the capital Malé in mosques and other locations, including the artificial beach and the tsunami memorial area, as well as in Vilimalé and Hulhumalé.

The fund was launched by Maldives national football team midfielder Mohamed Arif and former captain Assad Abdul Gani at a ceremony last week.

Adhaalath Party Spokesperson Imran Zahir said at the ceremony that 11 NGOs were participating in the fund raising activities while a bank account for donations would be set up at the Islamic Bank.

Zahir said donations would be counted in the presence of the media and that the proceeds would not be used for management purposes.

Meanwhile, the Qatari Red Crescent offered last Thursday (July 17) to ensure that the funds reach its intended recipients.

In a letter to AP President Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Qatar Red Crescent Secretary General Saleh Bin Ali Al-Muhanadi said that the humanitarian organisation could ensure that the funds reach the people of Gaza in the form of food and medicine.

The arrangements could be made through its extensive relief efforts in Gaza, he said.

“We note that we have had a very fruitful partnership with Adaalath Party in two previous projects; namely Gaza Fund and PK Fund, in which we channelled the funds that were raised in Maldives to the people of Gaza and Pakistan respectively,” the letter read.

In early 2009, 25 Maldivian charities raised US$100,000 for humanitarian projects in Gaza in the wake of an Israeli military offensive in December 2008.

The previous Gaza fund raised MVR1.2 million (US$100,834) between January 9 and February 8, 2009.

Last week, thousands of Maldivians joined a protest march in the capital against the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Fund raising

Meanwhile, a heated exchange took place on social media last week between Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed and former President Mohamed Nasheed after the latter suggested that it would be “unwise” to donate to the AP fund while details of expenditure out of a “Mosque Fund” set up by the Islamic Ministry remained unclear.

Shaheem responded angrily claiming that details of expenditure were shared with the People’s Majlis and the media, implying that Nasheed had left the country to avoid participating in a rally by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on July 12.

“Nasheed cannot tolerate any action against the Jews in Maldives,” the Islamic Minister tweeted.

In response, the opposition leader accused Shaheem of lying and explained that he had flown overseas on July 7 to seek “emergency” medical treatment for his wife in Singapore, three days before the MDP’s national council passed a resolution to hold a protest march.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla meanwhile tweeted, “[President Nasheed] is with his wife who just underwent a surgery. How much evil do you need to spread, in this holy month?”

According to figures publicised by the Islamic Ministry, a total of MVR21.5 million (US$1.3 million) was donated to the mosque fund, out of which and spent MVR14.9 million (US$966,278) as of July 2013.

The opposition party’s national council organised a protest march after Nasheed – currently the party’s acting president – called on “all human rights defenders” to raise their voices “against the indiscriminate killings in Gaza.”

In a tweet four days later, Nasheed referred to 12 Maldivians leaving for Ceylon to fight in the neighbouring country’s defence in 1943 and suggested that there was “no reason that an MNDF [Maldivian National Defence Force] brigade should not go in defence of Gaza.”

On Friday (July 18), Nasheed contended that the current administration could not “care for Gaza” and asked the MDP to take the initiative to organise “a human shield” for resistance in Gaza.

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Maldives to hold Free Palestine rally

The Maldives has condemned Israel’s continuing offensive on Gaza and called for an immediate cease-fire as Malé prepares for a Free Palestine Rally today.

“Israel must stop the invasion of Gaza, it should stop the killing, the airstrikes, and declare a cease-fire, and start dialogue with Palestine,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon said on Saturday.

Meanwhile, over 12,000 Maldivians have pledged to attend a Free Palestine Rally in Malé tonight. The event has received support from across the political spectrum.

Youth leaders of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), pro-government Jumhooree Party and Adhaalath Party and opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) held a joint press conference on Monday and called on supporters to attend the rally.

Event organizer, Hamna Waheed said the rally aims to show solidarity with the people of Palestine and opposition to the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

“There won’t be any speeches. We are gathering to express solidarity with Palestinian people, to stand against Israeli attacks on Gaza. We are standing just like many others around the world,” she said.

The march is to begin at 9:30 pm in front of the Social Center in Malé and will end at the Cricket Stadium with a prayer for the people of Gaza.

Organizers have requested supporters to wear black and white.

A rally is to be held in the country’s second most populous atoll Addu at 4:00 pm today.

Solidarity

While welcoming the UN Security Council’s call for a ceasefire, Dunya also said the council “needs to make stronger decisions as provided for by the UN Charter to stop Israeli aggression in Palestine.”

She also called on Israel to “heed the international community’s calls and respect international humanitarian law” and demanded the international community intensify efforts to cease the violence in Gaza.

Urging the international community to find a stable and lasting solution to the crisis, Dunya reiterated Maldives’ support for a two state solution through dialogue.

Opposition MP and former Speaker of the Parliament Abdulla Shahid has urged the government to use Maldives’ position in the UN Human Rights Council to act against the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

President Abdulla Yameen phoned Palestinian President Dr Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday and condemned “Israel’s inhuman actions in killing many innocent citizens of Palestine.”

Yameen pledged to do all necessary in the international arena to aid Palestinians.

Abbas thanked Yameen for the call and thanked the people of Maldives for their solidarity with Palestine, the President’s Office said.

Opposition rally

The government’s reaction came after opposition criticism over inaction.

On July 10, opposition leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed called on all human rights defenders to raise their voice against “indiscriminate killings in Gaza” and requested all Maldivian to speak out against Israel’s “inhumane acts in Gaza.”

MDP’s national council held a rally on July 12 in Malé protesting the attacks on Gaza and condemning the government’s silence on the matter.

Subsequently, Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer has requested the Commissioner of Police to investigate and prosecute protesters who gathered near Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed’s residence during the rally.

The Freedom of Assembly Act, enacted following the controversial power transfer of 2011, prohibits protests against individuals at their private residences, the Home Ministry said.

Twitter exchange

Opposition leaders and supporters have also criticised the religious Adhaalath Party for failing to mention the conflict during the sermon in Friday prayers on July 11.

Shaheem responded in a tweet on the same day stating the sermon included a general prayer for victory over enemies of Muslims and on July 13 said a special prayer for Palestine will be included in the sermon on July 18.

The Adhaalath Party – of which the Islamic minister Shaheem is a member – also announced the establishment of a Gaza Relief Fund on July 12.

Nasheed in a tweet on the same day said it is “unwise” to donate for a fund established by Adhaalath Party without receiving the expenditure details of the “Mosque Fund” set up by the Islamic Ministry.

A heated exchange ensued on Twitter, with Shaheem claiming the fund’s expenditures were shared with the People’s Malis and media, and implied Nasheed had left the country to avoid the MDP’s rally that night.

“Nasheed cannot tolerate any action against the Jews in Maldives,” he said.

Nasheed accused Shaheem of lying and said he had left the country on an emergency medical trip on July 7, three days before the call for protest.

According to figures publicised by Shaheem, the Mosque Fund received MVR 21.5 million in donations and spent MVR 14.9 million as of July 2013.

Nasheed on Monday said the MDP is ready to go defend Gaza, and said he believed there is no reason that Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) should not go to Gaza in Palestinian’s defence.

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Maldives President visits Palestine, snubs Israel: Times of Israel

The president of Maldives arrived for an “official” visit to “Palestine” on Tuesday without planning a stopover in Israel, underlining the loss of one of Israel’s few friends in the Muslim world, writes Raphael Ahren for the Times of Israel.

President Mohammed Waheed Hassan’s four-day visit includes trips to Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah, where he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and laid a wreath at the grave of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Tuesday. He is not scheduled to meet any Israeli officials.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson said that Israel has been kept informed of the visit and coordinated with the Maldivians for security needs. “We’re perfectly happy for them to have an active relationship with the Palestinians,” he said.

The Republic of Maldives, a tiny island nation southwest of Sri Lanka, does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, yet until two years ago bilateral ties were growing increasingly cordial.

In February 2012, the government in Malé was deposed in what observers called a political coup. Mohamed Nasheed — the country’s first democratically elected president, known for his pro-Israel stance — was ousted and replaced by Islamist hardliners around Waheed Hassan.

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“Anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance” deeply entrenched in Maldivian political discourse: Dr Shaheed

Anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance “are deeply entrenched” in political parties currently opposed to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), former Foreign Minister in both Nasheed and Gayoom’s government, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, has said.

Dr Shaheed’s comments follow reports in local media summarising US Embassy cables first published by Wikileaks in 2009, and discussed during the then-opposition parliament’s efforts to impeach the foreign minister.

In particular, the Maldivian government’s engagement with Israel was the subject of a parliamentary debate November 9, 2009, in which Shaheed narrowly avoided impeachment following a no-confidence motion.

Opposition to the Maldives’ recognition of Israel was seized by then opposition groups in December 2011 as a sign of the Nasheed government’s “anti-Islamic” policies. The previously disparate parties formed the ‘December 23 coalition’, following a large rally in Male’.

Dr Shaheed said “Growing extremism hurts the Maldives rather than anybody else, because whenever a state is unable to deliver what is in the public interest due to intimidation from others, it is the state that suffers.”

“The growth of extremism itself has numerous causes, but none of it is linked to government policy towards Israel or Palestine,” he added.

Many Maldivians firmly believe that policies pursued by Israel affect their solidarity with Arabs and other Muslims, Dr Shaheed explained.

“We care about how Israel treats the Palestinian people, because we care about the safety of the Muslim holy places under Israeli jurisdiction, and because we need to have a dialogue with Israel communicating our interests and concerns on these matters regularly,” he said.

More space for civic reasoning in Maldivian politics is needed for the Maldives to “behave like the rational nation-state, with friendship towards all, that we claim we are,” he said. “Silence may be golden but dialogue is the miracle tool of diplomacy.”

In the original cable referred to by Sun Online, Dr Shaheed told then US Ambassador Robert Blake that he believed “radical clerics ignited a reaction” among the Maldivian population and this was “a lot, but not a genuine undercurrent.”

Dr Shaheed “highlighted that former President Nasheed pledged to “renew ties” with Israel in his September 24 (2009) UN General Assembly speech,” that the Maldives Defense Minister and Minister for Natural Disasters would visit Israel later that year, and both nations “have already signed agreements on health, education, and tourism”.

Speaking to Minivan News, Dr Shaheed said he believed MDP’s rivals considered the cables “the perfect fog-machine to distract any discussion of bread and butter issues in the campaign.”

“Many in the Maldives see the Palestinian-Israeli dispute in religious terms, and religious sensitivities are played up during election time,” he added.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs meanwhile told Minivan News the Maldives is “not against Israel”.

“The Maldives’ government always supports Palestinian citizens to have their freedom and urges this in the United Nations,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Muaz Ali.

“This does not mean Maldives is against Israel,” he said.

“Anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance”

“Neither former President Maumoon Gayoom nor former President Mohamed Nasheed divided the world into a Dar al- Harb and a Dar al- Islam as in classical Islamic international relations theory, which is what the Salafists in the Maldives want to do,” stated Shaheed.

Shaheed explained that “anti-semitism runs deep in certain sections of Maldivian society”, highlighting as an example an article published in Dhivehi on local news website Dhi-Islam in January 2011, reporting on the agreements made between the Maldivian and Israeli government.

“Under this heinous agreement, these people have thrown the little children and the youth of the Maldives, as well as the country’s education sector and the health sector and many other matters, into the lap of the evil Zionist Israelis, who, as we have been informed through the seven heavens, will never wish anything but evil for Muslims,” the article reads.

“Jews have even historically been an evil people who have been cursed because they had killed prophets and spread corruption on earth, and that they are the biggest enemies of Muslims is proven by the teachings of the Holy Quran and forms of the core beliefs of Muslims. This agreement will impose pressures to prevent the dissemination of these teachings,” it adds.

The report claims that Jews have falsely exaggerated “incidents” of torture and killings during the Holocaust “to inculcate sympathy towards Israel in the minds of Maldivian youths; to convince the Maldivian youths that the jews are the victims of oppression and to make them blind and insensitive to the occupation of Palestine, the seizure of Muslim holy lands, and the endless oppression the jews inflict on the inhabitants of the land.”

“This agreement is high treason or the highest form treachery against the noble Islam and Maldivian identity, upon which this country is founded. It is a matter far more dangerous and grave than can be treated lightly,” said the report.

Historical Maldivian – Israeli relations

There is no document to support the claim that Maldives ever severed diplomatic relations with Israel, in Maldivian or Israeli records, explained Dr Shaheed.

Instead, what appears to have happened is a downgrading of the relationship where no Maldivian president since the early 1970s has been willing to receive an Israeli ambassador formally in his office.

The Maldives voted at the UN to accept the legitimacy of Israel, on December 17, 1991, at the request of then President George Bush, by repealing the 1975 UN resolution equating zionism with racism.

“The Maldives was not alone in changing its policies towards Israel – there were a number of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) states doing the same thing, or had even restored full diplomatic relations,” said Dr Shaheed.

“Under Gayoom, the Maldives categorically accepted the two-state solution. All of these actions were firmly grounded in international law and state practice,” he added.

The Maldivian government discussed the question of restoring ties with Israel following the Oslo Accord agreement in 1993, which established a peace process framework to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Israel agreed to recognize Yasser Arafat as its partner in peace talks and essentially exchanged land for peace. The Palestinians in turn recognized Israel’s right to exist while also renouncing the use of terrorism and its long-held call for Israel’s destruction.

The Gayoom cabinet agreed on a three-stage restoration of ties with Israel, beginning in June 1994. The Maldivian government “agreed to recognize Israeli passports and ended the travel ban” during stage one, explained Shaheed. Shortly thereafter stage two saw trade and commercial relations were fully restored. Restoring political ties occurred during stage three, with regular meetings at senior diplomatic levels, between 1995 to 2008.

“So what President Nasheed said at the UN – and that was my formulation – was that Maldives wanted friendly relations with all states in the General Assembly,” said Dr Shaheed.

“This does not and has not prevented Maldives from criticizing actions of UN member states when they violate peremptory norms of international law, but Nasheed was not going to divide the world into the good the bad and the ugly,” he declared.

In recent years, attitudes toward Israel have greatly fluctuated with collaborative engagement by the Maldivian government being countered by some anti-semitic ‘blowback’ from elements within Maldivian society.

In February 2010, a team of experts from the Israeli Foreign Ministry are training 35 Maldivian officials in emergency preparedness, with a focus on the management of mass casualties.

Later that year, in November, the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) called on the government to break off all diplomatic ties with Israel, a day after Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) announced that a team of seven Israeli doctors is due to arrive in the country to treat patients at the government hospital for a week.

The IFM reiterated calls to the Maldives government to “shun all medical aid from the Zionist regime” with a team of seven Israeli eye surgeons due to arrive in December 2012, claiming that Isreali doctors and surgeons “have become notorious for illegally harvesting organs from non-Jews around the world.”

The following month, Founders of the IFM NGO claimed that although they do not believe in “hysterical outbursts” and theories of an imminent “Jewish invasion” in the country, a week of anti-Israel protests and flag burning across Male’ has reflected “strong dissatisfaction with the government’s open attitude” to the Jewish state.

In May 2011, Ahmed Naseem became the first Maldivian Foreign Minister to visit Israel.

However, in September 2011, Deputy Leader of the Adhaalath Party Dr Mauroof Hussein has called for alarm after alleging that a delegation from an Israeli company, Teshuva Agricultural Products, was due to arrive in the Maldives to assess the country’s agricultural potential. The Israeli agricultural delegation that was supposed to arrive on Filadhoo cancelled the visit after the islanders warned that they would not let the delegation go further than the jetty.

In December 2011, Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari requested parliament endorse a resolution forbidding the government to establish ties with Israel.

While in April 2012, MPs passed a resolution preventing Israeli national airline El Al from operating scheduled flights to the Maldives until Majlis’ National Security Committee completes further investigation into the matter. El Al applied to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in May 2011 requesting permission to fly to the Maldives starting in December 2011.

There was no direct flight from Israel to Maldives between 2009-2011, so the Maldives was “not able to maximize the benefits from the growing Israeli market,” Dr Shaheed remarked.

“Maldives could have significantly increased the direct income and benefits from Israeli tourism by accepting direct flights from Israel, resulting in a longer holidays and greater expenditure in Maldives while still making the holiday comparatively cheaper for the visitor,” he added.

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