A Saudi citizen who allegedly helped Israeli journalist Gil Tamary enter the Muslim holy city of Makkah has been arrested and will face trial, Makkah police said on Friday. Saudi state media also said “procedures” would be initiated against Tamary.
Channel 13 on Monday released a clip of Tamary sneaking into Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, in defiance of the ban on non-Muslims.
Mecca regional police ‘referred a citizen’ to prosecutors for alleged complicity in ‘transferring and facilitating entry of a (non-Muslim) journalist,’ police spokesman said in remarks reported by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The SPA did not name the reporter but said he was a US citizen. He said his case had also been referred to prosecutors, “to initiate the necessary proceedings against him in accordance with the laws applied”.
Tamary also holds US citizenship.
To protect her companion’s identity, Tamary did not show her face and distorted her voice in the one-minute video the outlet’s Twitter posted on Monday, and Channel 13 aired a ten-minute report documenting his visit that night.
Despite growing behind-the-scenes trade and security contacts, Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel and has not joined the US-brokered 2020 Abraham Accords that saw the Jewish state establish ties with two neighbors of the kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
In her roughly 10-minute clip, Tamary visits Mount Arafat, where robed Muslim pilgrims gather to pray each year during the peak of the hajj pilgrimage.
He clarifies that he knows what he is doing is forbidden, but says he wanted to show “a place that is so important to our Muslim brothers and sisters”.
Tamary’s justification, and her subsequent apology, did little to quell the angry Saudi responses on social media.
It also sparked outrage in Israel, with many decrying the move as an unnecessary stunt. Critics mounted after it was revealed that her companion had been arrested.
The controversy followed US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia last week.
On Tuesday – a day after the report aired – Channel 13 and Tamary issued statements saying they apologized if the segment 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 capable Muslims must make at least once in their lifetime. The city is also the birthplace of the Muslim prophet Muhammad and home to many holy sites, including the Kaaba, the site Muslims face when praying.
Under current Saudi law, non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the holy city.
A source in Jerusalem familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that Israeli government officials were pleased with statements by Tamary and the channel apologizing for broadcasting the visit.
The Israeli government itself has not commented on the broadcast, but the source familiar with the matter said it caused a headache for Jerusalem, which was seeking to warm and ultimately normalize relations with Saudi Arabia . Some analysts, citing 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 Israel’s history, called the TV report “stupid.”
“It’s a holy place for Muslims,” Frej said. “What was the purpose? You want a report there, send a Muslim journalist!… The damage 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 last weekend.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report