A Saudi man who allegedly helped a Jewish Israeli journalist enter the holy city of Mecca has been arrested, police in the kingdom have said, after a backlash on social media.
The journalist, Gil Tamary of Israel’s Channel 13, posted on Twitter a video of himself on Monday sneaking into Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, in defiance of a ban on non-Muslims.
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Mecca regional police have “referred a citizen” to prosecutors for alleged complicity in “transferring and facilitating the entry of a (non-Muslim) journalist”, a police spokesperson said in comments reported by the official Saudi Press Agency late on Friday.
SPA did not name Tamary but said he is an American citizen, implying he had entered the country using his American passport since the kingdom has no formal ties with Israel.
His case has also been referred to prosecutors “to take the necessary procedures against him in accordance with the applied laws”, despite the Israeli national no longer being in the kingdom.
While Muslims of any nationality and background can enter Mecca, non-Muslims are not permitted because a very specific code of conduct and behaviour is required of all people within its boundaries, including certain forms of modesty, ritual cleansing and prayers.
In his 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 clear he knows that what he is doing is outlawed but says he wanted to showcase “a place that is so important to our Muslim brothers and sisters”.
Tamary left the mount after he said the religious police began asking him questions to make sure he was a Muslim.
The public backlash over Tamary’s visit was immediate on social media, with Muslims and Saudis expressing their anger over his deception and apparent disregard for the sanctity of the site.
إذا كان مسلم فأهلاً وسهلاً به بغض النظر عن جنسيته .. أما إذا كان غير مسلم فأتمنى أن يتم التحقيق معه ومع من تعاون معه ومعرفة كيف دخل إلى الحرم المقدس .. ماحرمه الله سبحانه في القرآن الكريم لا يمكن السكوت والتغاضي عنه .. اللهم إنا نبرأ إليك من هذا الفعل ومن رضي به
— عبد الإله🇸🇦 (@MloveM_) July 18, 2022
Translation: If he is a Muslim, he is welcome regardless of his nationality. But if he is not a Muslim, I hope that he will be investigated and with those who cooperated with him and know how he entered the Holy Sanctuary. What God has forbidden in the Holy Quran cannot be tolerated and overlooked.
الإعلام السعودي يصرّ على استغفالنا. أنا أدري إنه صحفي اسرائيلي يحمل جوازا أمريكيا، وأنتم كلكم تعرفون كذلك، والحكومة نفسها تعرف ذلك ومنحته إذنا خاصا للعمل مراسلا لشركة اعلامية اسرائيلية ضاربة بعرض الحائط نظام مقاطعة اسرائيل، والصحفي نفسه في الفيديو تفاخر بأنه أول اسرائيلي ادخل مكة https://t.co/8GNxQST8Ve
— سلطان العامر (@sultaan_1) July 22, 2022
Translation: The Saudi media insists on ignoring what we know. I know he’s an Israeli journalist with an American passport, and you all know it, and the [Saudi] government itself knows that, and gave him special permission to work as a reporter for an Israeli media company. The journalist himself in the video boasted that he was the first Israeli to enter Mecca.
The incident comes as Saudi-Israeli ties have been quietly growing amid shared concerns over Iran. Publicly, the kingdom insists its policy is that full ties can only happen when Palestinian statehood and rights are guaranteed.
The reporter and Channel 13 responded on Twitter after the report aired. The news channel, in both Hebrew and Arabic, said Tamary’s report was driven by “journalistic curiosity” and a desire to witness and see things first hand.
Police called on visitors to respect Saudi Arabia’s laws, particularly when it comes to Mecca and Islam’s holiest sites in the kingdom.