Turkish visa exemption for Israelis protested by Palestinians

ISTANBUL: A group of Palestinians have protested the Turkish government’s practice of requiring Palestinians to secure visas to visit Turkey while failing to demand the same of Israelis.

The group gathered in front of the Israeli Consulate General in Istanbul on Friday, the day marking the 67th anniversary of the foundation of Israel, chanting slogans against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Palestinian activist Nicola Saafin said that without the return of the land occupied by Israel to the Palestinians, the Palestine issue will not be resolved.

He also criticized Turkey over its practice of requiring Palestinians to have a visa to enter Turkey while imposing no such requirement on Israelis.

“We demand that the visa requirement for Palestinians be abolished to restore the dignity of the Palestinian people. It should have been the Palestinians, not the Zionists, who were granted visa exemptions. Israelis should not enter this land [Turkey] freely,” said Saafin.

Although tension between Turkey and Israel escalated after an incident in 2009 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, when then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of a panel discussion after lambasting then-Israeli President Shimon Perez, the trade volume between the two countries has been on the rise.

Turkey’s mutual trade volume with Israel reached over $5.6 billion in 2014 — a nearly 50 percent increase from 2009 — despite lingering diplomatic tension between the two, official figures show.

Israel and Turkey also overcame a diplomatic crisis that broke after Israeli commandos conducted an operation and killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American on the Mavi Marmara, which set sail from Turkey in 2010 to bring humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed an apology to the Turkish people in 2013 for any error that could have led to loss of life in the flotilla incident. He also said Israel has agreed to pay compensation to the families of the victims.

Erdogan welcomed Netanyahu’s apology by saying that he accepted it in the name of the Turkish people.

However, the sides have not yet agreed on the amount of compensation to be paid to the relatives of the victims of the Mavi Marmara incident.