Israeli journalist sneaks into Mecca | IJN
By Asaf Shalev
JERUSALEM — He has been touted as a historic scoop: the first Jewish-Israeli journalist to document the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage during an unprecedented visit to Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca.
But when the footage of Channel 13 correspondent Gil Tamary in Mecca aired on July 18, the reception from audiences in Israel and the Muslim world was highly critical.
As Tamary states on air, access to Islam’s holiest site is off-limits to members of other religions and illegal under Saudi law.
Tamary, who was in the country at the special invitation of the Saudi government during President Joe Biden’s diplomatic visit to the region, had decided to enter Makkah without permission in search of an exclusive story for her media.
At the start of July 19, social media was ablaze with outrage at Tamary’s act and the news outlet’s decision to release the footage.
The reporter and Channel 13 both issued apologies, saying they meant no offense but defending the segment as “a significant journalistic achievement” and “great journalism”.
In a region where visits to holy sites can spark conflict, the incursion could have serious consequences.
In this case, Tamary’s foray comes as Israel and Saudi Arabia are engaged in a delicate effort to improve relations that are seen as crucial to managing the mutual threat from Iran. Some fear that Tamary’s journey will disrupt those bonds.
JThe sequence opens with Tamary announcing her intentions.
“The city is closed to anyone who is not Muslim, you cannot enter,” Tamary said on the show. “It was clear that I had no chance of visiting Makkah, but I was able to find the right person who agreed to take the risk and take me on a trip.”
To protect the safety of the guide he had recruited, the Israeli media blurred his face and distorted his voice.
They made up a cover story in case they were arrested by the authorities, involving a fake visit to see friends in Mecca. In the show, they pass road signs stating that non-Muslims are not allowed to proceed and lower the camera as they pass police checkpoints on their way.
Upon reaching the holy Mount Arafat, they get out of the car and Tamary’s guide can be heard saying, “This is all illegal.
Tamary begins speaking to the camera in Hebrew, whispering to avoid detection.
“Only Muslims are allowed here. No Israeli journalist has ever broadcast from here,” says Tamary.
Tamary says the guide is starting to feel uncomfortable but Tamary insists they climb to the top of the mountain for a better vantage point. This is where they run into problems.
“I was convinced no one noticed me, but apparently I was attracting too much attention,” says Tamary.
“My guide suddenly touches my shoulder using our agreed sign [that] it’s time to escape. He had heard one of the clerics say that I should be approached to see if I am a Muslim. We’ve raised suspicions here and we’re escaping. His guide was later arrested by Saudi authorities.
JThe feeling that the show was disrespectful to Muslims was widespread enough to generate a viral hashtag in Arabic that translates to “Jew in the Haram”, referring to the Grand Mosque in Mecca which houses the cube-shaped Kaaba.
Among those who called him was a staunch supporter of improving relations with Israel, a Saudi blogger named Mohammed Saud, who recorded a video of himself speaking in Hebrew to denounce the segment. A few days ago, Saud posted a video of himself singing the Israeli national anthem.
“My dear friends in Israel, one of your reporters entered the Muslim holy city of Mecca and filmed without any shame. It’s like going into a synagogue and reading the Torah. Shame on you Channel 13, you should be ashamed of yourself for disrespecting Islam like this,” Saud says in the video.
Saud’s example is not strictly equal because it is not illegal for a Muslim to enter a synagogue and although it would violate some Jewish religious rules and cause discomfort, it would not create an international incident. with possible diplomatic repercussions.
Mevery Israeli took to Twitter to criticize Tamary’s visit. A user calling herself Safta Miriam, for example, wrote: “Gil Tamary should be fired. So disrespectful! Channel 13 should be fined.
Another user named Rod Lior wrote, “I’m ashamed of Tamary with all my heart. He doesn’t represent me, he doesn’t represent us. The Israeli people respect all religions and despise anyone who does so. I hope he will be punished with all the severity.
Following the outcry, Tamary tweeted that he “did not intend to offend Muslims, or anyone else. . . The whole purpose of this endeavor was to showcase the importance of Makkah and the beauty of the religion.
The professional ethics of journalists generally prohibit lying about one’s identity or breaking the law to obtain a story. But Tamary concluded her apology with a defense of the segment for journalistic reasons.
“Curiosity is at the heart and center of journalism, and this kind of first-hand journalistic encounter is what separates good journalism from great journalism,” he wrote.