A Saudi citizen who allegedly helped Israeli journalist Gil Tamary enter the Muslim holy city of Mecca has been arrested and will be prosecuted, Mecca police said Friday. Official Saudi media also indicated “procedures” would be instituted against Tamary.
Channel 13 on Monday aired a clip of Tamary sneaking into Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, in defiance of a ban on non-Muslims.
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.
SPA did not name the journalist but said he is an American citizen. It said his case has also been referred to prosecutors, “to take the necessary procedures against him in accordance with the applied laws.”
Tamary also holds US citizenship.
To protect his companion’s identity, Tamary did not show his face and warped his voice in the one-minute video the news outlet’s Twitter posted on Monday, and Channel 13 aired a ten-minute report documenting his visit that night.
Despite growing behind-the-scenes business and security contacts, Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel and did not join the 2020 US-brokered Abraham Accords that saw the Jewish state establish ties with two of the kingdom’s neighbors, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
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’s doing is outlawed but says he wanted to showcase “a place that is so important to our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Tamary’s justification, and subsequent apology, did little to quiet angry Saudi social media responses.
It also prompted outrage in Israel, with many decrying the move as an unnecessary stunt. The criticism grew after it was revealed that his companion had been arrested.
The controversy followed US President Joe Biden’s visit 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, deeming it a significant journalistic accomplishment.
Mecca is a holy city for Muslims and the site of the hajj, or pilgrimage, that all able Muslims are commanded to do at least once during their lifetime. The city is also the birthplace of the Muslim prophet Muhammad and is home to numerous holy sites, including the Kaaba, the site Muslims face in prayer.
Under current Saudi law, non-Muslims are forbidden 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 the statements issued by Tamary 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 indicated that it had caused a headache for Jerusalem, which has been seeking to warm and ultimately normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. Some analysts, citing the widespread Muslim outrage, argued that Tamary’s visit may well have further complicated normalization efforts.
Earlier Wednesday, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej and the second Muslim minister in Israeli history, decried the TV report as “stupid.”
“This is a holy place for Muslims,” said Frej. “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 just three members of the Israeli press allowed into Saudi Arabia to cover the GCC+3 summit this past weekend.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report