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Israeli citizen arrested in Saudi Arabia after publicly praising Israel

Sammi al-Obara visited kingdom, with which Israel has no diplomatic ties, to make pilgrimage to Mecca; family members say he was detained for diabetes-fueled rant in pharmacy

Screen capture from video of a form held by an Israeli citizen who was arrested in Saudi Arabia after praising Israel during an angry rant in a pharamcy, February 22, 2022. (Channel 12 News)
Screen capture from video of a form held by an Israeli citizen who was arrested in Saudi Arabia after praising Israel during an angry rant in a pharamcy, February 22, 2022. (Channel 12 News)

An Israeli citizen is being held under arrest in Saudi Arabia for an angry rant in a pharmacy during which he praised Israel as the best country in the world.

Sammi al-Obara, 40, a resident of the Bedouin city of Rahat in the southern Negev region, suffers from diabetes, which was likely the cause of his behavior, his family said.

He was arrested on Tuesday during a pilgrimage to the kingdom, according to Hebrew media reports.

Israel has no diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, which could complicate any efforts to secure his release.

Mussa Obara, a relative, told Channel 12 that the arrested man suffers from diabetes and “sometimes, because of the disease, he can’t control the way he behaves.”

Mussa said that Obara was in such a state of mind when he entered the pharmacy and became agitated at the service he was given. Workers summoned police, who arrested Obara.

The family has appealed to Saudi officials, explaining that Obara is unwell and was not in control of himself. They have also asked MK Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist Ra’am party, which is part of Israel’s ruling coalition, and others for help, Mussa said.

The Foreign Ministry said it was looking into the matter.

A video shared on social media and apparently filmed by Obara himself on Tuesday showed him raging in the pharmacy at the service he was given.

The clip shows a hand holding a form with Arabic writing on it. In the video, Obara can be heard fuming that he had wanted to see a doctor but was instead sent to the pharmacy.

He is then heard saying: “I swear to it, my brother, we live a good country. Israel is the best country in the world.” He then repeats the last sentence.

“The workers there didn’t like it and they called the police, who arrested him,” Mussa said and noted that Obara’s remand has been extended until Sunday.

Obara, who is single, arrived in Saudi Arabia last Friday with a large group of family and friends to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Umrah pilgrimage can be made at any time in the year, unlike the more famous annual Hajj, which has specific dates.

He arrived via Jordan, according to Channel 12.

Although in 2020 Israel said it would allow its citizens to visit Saudi Arabia for business or religious purposes, the kingdom at the time said Israelis would not be allowed in.

Israeli Muslim pilgrims usually travel for the Hajj or Umrah on temporary Jordanian papers.

Riyadh has taken a number of steps in recent years toward normalizing relations with Jerusalem. The Saudis were said to have given a behind-the-scenes green light to the United Arab Emirates forging ties with Israel in 2020, and have since allowed Israeli aircraft to use their airspace for direct flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. However, Israel-Saudi ties have remained almost entirely unofficial, and the Gulf kingdom insists that won’t change unless Israel makes peace with the Palestinians.

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