Why an Israeli Journalist Was Wrong to Visit Mecca

July 26 2022

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia allowed the first ever direct flight to the kingdom from Tel Aviv, and invited a delegation of Israeli reporters to cover President Biden’s visit. One of these journalists took the opportunity to travel to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, and then circulated videos of himself there. Harold Rhode believes this “shameful” act will likely lead “Israel-Saudi relations to cool down” for the time being:

According to Islamic law, only Muslims are allowed to enter Mecca. Non-Muslims who violate this prohibition are seen as religiously contaminating the holy city, and are therefore punished severely. Whatever non-Muslims might think, Muslims do not see the world as non-Muslims do. It is therefore hard to explain in Western terms how serious this transgression is and the extent to which it will set back Israel-Saudi relations.

The Saudis do not have a free press and, like others in the Muslim world, have great difficulty accepting that Western governments cannot rein in their journalists. Even Muslims who know the West well often have difficulty understanding this.

Where does the above-mentioned Israeli-Jewish journalist who went to Mecca fit into this picture? To the best of our knowledge, he is a secular Jew who [perhaps] has little appreciation of the concept of holiness in any religion—including his own.

The Saudi rulers’ claim to fame in the Islamic world is that they protect Islam’s two holiest places—Mecca and Medina. To Muslims, it now looks as though Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was unable to do so. This shames him and Saudi Arabia, thus undermining their claim to be protecting the holy cities. That’s how Muslims view what happened. Even worse, as the videos he filmed demonstrate, [the Israeli reporter] clearly had fun sneaking into Mecca. From a Muslim perspective, he and by extension all of Israel have undermined the Saudi regime.

Read more at JNS

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Journalism, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia