Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday hosted in his office a delegation of journalists and bloggers from Arab countries, including a Saudi Arabian national, Mohammed Saud, who was harassed and attacked by Palestinians on Monday as he was touring Jerusalem’s Old City.
During a lengthy meeting, Netanyahu apologized to Saud on Israel’s behalf for the incident. Saud, for his part, underlined his support for Israel by singing a song, in Hebrew, by poet Leah Goldberg, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson for the Arabic media, Hassan Caabia, told The Times of Israel.
Later on Tuesday, the delegation of six Arab journalists and bloggers also had an hour-long meeting with Foreign Minister Israel Katz.
“He took it somewhat harshly, but he understood that this is the real face of the Palestinians,” Caabia said, referring to the insults and attacks to which Saud was subjected Monday when he toured the Temple Mount and walked through Jerusalem’s Old City.
Three suspects in the harassment of Saud were arrested Tuesday.
In the wake of the incident, a scheduled meeting of the visiting group with Israeli journalists was canceled.
“They talk about how so many in the Arab world want to have peace with Israel, normalization with Israel, want to come to Israel,” Netanyahu said later, referring to the group he hosted. “They’re not always free to express it, and there’s always opposition… but they expressed that desire.”
The prime minister said he told the delegation that Israel is “the irreplaceable power” in the Middle East because without it, “I would say the region would collapse.
“Without Israel, without the things that we do and the things that we stand for and the things that we protect, I think the entire Middle East would collapse to the forces of Islamic radicalism, whether Shiite led by Iran or Sunni radicalism led by Islamic State.”
Netanyahu made those remarks during a meeting with US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, which took place immediately after his sit-down with the Arab journalists and bloggers. The Prime Minister’s Office released no photos and no separate readout of his meeting with the Arab delegation, members of which have thus far refused to have their names and photographs made public. Only Saud’s name has been published.
The delegation is touring Israel at the invitation of the Foreign Ministry, which has billed the visit as a milestone in Jerusalem’s effort to foster closer ties with the Arab world. No representatives of the media were invited to the meeting.
Saud is one of six Arab journalists and bloggers, including representatives from Jordan and Iraq, brought to Israel by the Foreign Ministry.
Video of the incident shows a child spitting on Saud as he visited the holy site, while others yell at him to leave. In another clip, chairs and other objects are thrown at Saud as he walks through one of the Old City’s alleys.
One man is heard shouting at Saud, “Go to a synagogue.” Others are heard calling him an “animal” and “Zionist trash.”
أهلنا في #القدس المحتلة يرجمون ويطردون المتصهين السعودي محمد سعود @mohsaud08
خلال محاولته الدخول للمسجد الأقصى المبارك بعد أن التقط الصور التذكارية مع مستوطنين ومسؤولين صهاينة pic.twitter.com/1swYyXn3UF
— عبدالله الوذين (@abqatar) July 22, 2019
A Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned Saud’s harassment.
“We strongly condemn the cruel and immoral behavior of some Palestinians near the Al-Aqsa Mosque toward a Saudi media personality who came to Jerusalem to be a bridge to peace and understanding between peoples,” Nizar Amer wrote on Twitter on Monday.
Palestinians attacked Saudi journalist @mohsaud08 and kicked him out of Al-Aqsa Mosque, calling him "trash, traitor Zionist". Mohammad is a part of Arab journalists delegation visiting Israel this week. pic.twitter.com/abojmM6c6x
— Suleiman Maswadeh סולימאן מסוודה (@SuleimanMas1) July 22, 2019
Another Foreign Ministry spokesperson called it a “disgusting welcome.”
Disgusting welcome to this #Saudi blogger on #HaremAlSharif #AlAqsa
A devout #Muslim, coming to pray at a historical mosque, spat on because he accepted an official invitation from #Israel. "Peace ☮️ will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us" (G.M). pic.twitter.com/gtSbuOnmd7
— Ohad Nakash Kaynar (@KaynarOhad) July 22, 2019
Said the Foreign Ministry’s Caabia: “It was barbaric and brazen; the Palestinians think [the Temple Mount] is only theirs, and doesn’t belong to the Israelis… This young man came here to promote peace between the nations. Israel gave him a warm welcome, but the Palestinians wanted to humiliate him.”
Saud, who speaks some Hebrew, is an unabashed fan of Netanyahu and his Likud party. The username on his Twitter feed is written in Hebrew as well as in Arabic, and his description includes an Israeli flag emoji and the words “Only Bibi!” using Netanyahu’s nickname.
The group of journalists and bloggers were slated to visit Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, the Knesset and holy sites, and to meet with members of Israeli academia during the trip.
The ministry has said the visit has “the aim of exposing the journalists — some of whom come from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel — to Israeli positions on diplomatic and geopolitical issues.”
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.