Internet furious as Israeli journalist sneaks into Makkah and airs videotext_fields
An Israeli journalist defied a ban on non-Muslims entering Islam's holiest site in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, sparking an online backlash and straining growing ties between Tel Aviv and Gulf states.
On Monday, Israel's Channel 13 News broadcasted a 10-minute report featuring journalist Gil Tamary who climbed up the Mount of Mercy after driving past the Grand Mosque, which houses the cube-shaped Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine.
Tamary was accompanied by a local guide whose face was blurred to avoid recognition. While speaking to the camera, he lowered his voice when speaking in Hebrew, switching to English at times to avoid revealing himself as Israeli.
The reporter is the first Jewish Israeli reporter to cover the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage, and this report was seen as a scoop.
The footage triggered a strong online backlash after it was aired, with the trending Twitter hashtag "A Jew in Mecca's Grand Mosque".
Mohammed Saud, a pro-Israel Saudi activist was among the critics. "My dear friends in Israel, a journalist of yours entered the city of Mecca, holy to Islam, and filmed there shamelessly," he said.
"Shame on you Channel 13, for hurting the religion of Islam like that. You are rude."
Esawi Freij, Israel's regional cooperation minister, who is also a devout Muslim, condemned Tamary's report as "stupid and harmful" to Israel-Gulf relations.
"It was irresponsible and damaging to air this report just for the sake of ratings," he added.
Tamary, who was in Jeddah to cover the visit of United States President Joe Biden on Friday, apologized following the online backlash, saying that his intention was not to offend Muslims.
"If anyone takes offence to this video, I deeply apologize," he wrote in English on Twitter.
"The purpose of this entire endeavour was to showcase the importance of Mecca and the beauty of the religion, and in doing so, foster more religious tolerance and inclusion," he added.
He had claimed "inquisitiveness is at the heart and centre of journalism" and that his reporting had been guided by the desire to allow people to "see, for the first time, a place that is so important to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to human history".
Overseeing the plain of Arafat, the Mount of Mercy is revered as the site of the Prophet Muhammad's final sermon 14 centuries ago.
Makkah is the holiest place of worship for Muslims in the world, followed by the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Violating the Muslim-only rule and non-Muslims entering this site can result in fines or deportation.
The Saudi media, which is tightly controlled by the government, did not report the news. It is unclear whether the authorities have approved the journalist's trip to Makkah, according to Al Jazeera.
Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, and Israel is not recognised as a state by the kingdom.
But both the countries were working behind the scenes, together on security issues, with common concerns about the growing influence of their common enemy Iran in the region.
Last week, Saudi Arabia said it would open its airspace to all airline, making way for more overflights to and from Israel, in a sign of warming ties between the two countries.