Saudis arrest man who helped Israeli journalist enter Mecca illegally

Saudis arrest man who helped Israeli journalist enter Mecca illegally

A Saudi national who allegedly helped Israeli journalist Gil Tamary enter the Muslim holy city of Mecca has been arrested and will face charges, Mecca police said on Friday. Official Saudi media also indicated that “procedures” would be instituted against Tamary.

Channel 13 on Monday sent a clip of Tamary sneaking into Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, in defiance of a ban on non-Muslims.

Makkah regional police have “referred a citizen” to prosecutors for alleged complicity in the “transfer and facilitation of a (non-Muslim) journalist,” a police spokesman said in comments reported by the official Saudi Press Agency.

SPA did not name the journalist, but said he is a US citizen. It said his case has also been referred to the prosecution, “to take the necessary proceedings against him in accordance with the applicable laws.”

Tamary also holds American citizenship.

To protect his friend’s identity, Tamary did not show his face and distorted his voice in the one-minute video the news agency’s Twitter posted on Monday, and Channel 13 aired a ten-minute report documenting his visit that night.

Despite growing business and security ties behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel and did not join the US-brokered Abraham Accords of 2020 that saw the Jewish state establish ties with two of the kingdom’s neighbors, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Kanal 13’s Gil Tamary in Mecca, Saudi Arabia with the Great Mosque in the background from footage broadcast on July 18, 2022. (Screen capture/ Kanal 13)

In her roughly 10-minute clip, Tamary visits Mount Arafat, where robed Muslim pilgrims gather to pray during the climax of the hajj pilgrimage each year.

He makes it clear that he knows what he is doing is forbidden, but says he wanted to showcase “a place that is so important to our Muslim brothers and sisters”.

Tamary’s reasoning, and subsequent apology, did little to quiet angry Saudi reactions on social media.

It also sparked outrage in Israel, with many denouncing the move as an unnecessary stunt. Criticism grew after it was revealed that his companion had been arrested.

The controversy followed US President Joe Biden’s visits to both Israel and Saudi Arabia last week.

On Tuesday — a day after the report aired — both Channel 13 and Tamary issued statements saying they apologized if the segment had offended Muslims, but stood by the decision to air it, calling it a significant journalistic achievement.

Mecca is a holy city for Muslims and the site of the hajj, or pilgrimage, which all able-bodied Muslims are commanded to make at least once in their lifetime. The city is also the birthplace of the Muslim prophet Muhammad and is home to a number of holy sites, including the Kaaba, the place where Muslims meet for prayer.

Under current Saudi law, non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the holy city.

A source in Jerusalem familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that Israeli government officials were satisfied with Tamary’s statements and the network apologizing for broadcasting the visit.

The Israeli government itself has not commented on the broadcast, but the source familiar with the matter suggested it had caused a headache for Jerusalem, which has sought to warm and eventually normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. Some analysts, citing widespread Muslim outrage, argued that Tamary’s visit may have further complicated normalization efforts.

Earlier on Wednesday, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej and the second Muslim minister in Israeli history rejected the TV report as “stupid”.

“This is a holy place for Muslims,” ​​Frej said. “What was the point? You want a report from there, send a Muslim journalist!… The damage from this will be significant,” he told the Kan public broadcaster.

Tamary was one of only three members of the Israeli press allowed into Saudi Arabia to cover the GCC+3 summit this weekend.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report

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