Six Arab bloggers and journalists arrived in Israel earlier this month at the invitation of Israel’s foreign ministry.
With the exception of Jordan and Egypt, none of these countries has formal diplomatic ties with Israel, but some have made moves towards normalization in recent months.
Yuval Rotem, the director general of Israel’s foreign ministry, said the visit would allow the delegation “to get to know the Israeli society in all its diversity from up close.”
The delegation had dinner with foreign ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon, who called it “a moment of great emotion.”
The delegates made the trip through the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan into the occupied West Bank, according to Israel’s i24 News.
The foreign ministry said the itinerary would include a tour of northern Israel, a visit to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and a stop at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Normalizers not welcome
Saud was chased out by Palestinians and worshippers from the al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem on 22 July when they realized he was a member of the delegation.
Local media circulated videos showing Palestinians calling him “cheap,” telling him to “go pray in the Knesset,” spitting on him and throwing chairs and objects at him:
One can be heard saying that the al-Aqsa mosque is a “pure place” and that it doesn’t welcome “normalizers.”
Saud’s visit came on the same day as Israeli forces began the demolition of some 100 apartments in the Wadi Hummus neighborhood on the outskirts of Sur Bahir, a village southeast of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank.
Another member of the delegation was also heckled by Palestinians in Jerusalem on 23 July:
Local media said he was a Jordanian but did not identify him.
Another Saudi blogger and a friend of Saud appeared on the Israeli public broadcaster Kan on 23 July.
“What happened to my friend Mohammed is unbelievable,” he said.
“The level of meannes and villainy that the Palestinian people have reached, they have ruined the image of Islam and Muslims.”
The Saudi blogger called on Israel to seize control over Jerusalem’s holy places from Jordan, which acts as custodian. Al-Aqsa mosque is one of Islam’s holiest sites.
Saudi journalist Abd al-Hamid al-Ghabin appeared on Israel’s i24 News during the same week and said that the custodianship of the al-Aqsa mosque should be transferred to Saudi Arabia.
He added that Jordan’s recent warming up to Qatar and Turkey “will not save it from its inevitable fate as an alternative homeland for the Palestinians.”
Turning Jordan into an alternative state for Palestinians, so that Israel can seize the whole of historic Palestine, is a longstanding dream of the Israeli far right.
Outraged Saudi social media users expressed solidarity with Palestinians with the hashtag “Saudis against normalization” in Arabic.
Others are doing the opposite, posting anti-Palestinian videos under the Twitter hashtag “they sold the issue and then cursed us” – a false accusation that Palestinians themselves willingly gave up their homeland to the Zionist movement.
This anti-Palestinian propaganda is similar to that disseminated by Egyptian elites starting a generation ago in order to justify Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel despite Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian and other Arab land.
Posing with Likud officials
Saud also posed with the Israeli foreign ministry’s spokesperson for Arabic-language media, Hassan Kaabia, who called the Saudi blogger his “friend”:
Kaabia told The Times of Israel that Saud took being protested by Palestinians “somewhat harshly, but he understood that this is the real face of the Palestinians.”
The delegation also met with Netanyahu. The prime minister apologized to Saud on behalf of Israel for being protested in Jerusalem.
Kaabia added that Saud sang a Hebrew song by Israeli poet Leah Goldberg to show support for Israel, according to The Times of Israel.
Condemnation from journalist unions
The Iraqi Journalists Syndicate condemned the alleged participation of an Iraqi journalist in the visit.
The syndicate said it “rejects all forms of normalization with the Zionist entity.”
It added that it would punish any Iraqi journalists found to have participated, including suspension from the union.
The Palestinian Democratic Press Society also condemned the delegation, stressing that it rejects “all such visits and displays of normalization.”
The Federation of Arab Journalists denied that any journalists from Arab states even made the trip.
The federation said it “conclusively ascertained” that no journalists belonging to member syndicates in Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia or Iraq took part.
It added that the journalists who took part may be Arab nationals living in other countries and holding passports from their countries of residence.
The Bahraini Society Against Normalization with the Zionist Enemy also condemned the visit, and called for a boycott of anyone who made the trip.
“I will continue to work with the Israeli Prime Minister to advance Israel’s relations with the Gulf countries,” Katz wrote on Twitter.
Katz visited the UAE last month to attend a climate conference and push his plan to build a regional rail network through Jordan, Iraq and several Gulf states, linking them to the Mediterranean via Israel.
It was the first visit by an Israeli minister to an Arab country with which Israel has no relations following the US workshop in Bahrain last month.
In a video message published on Israel’s Arabic-language propaganda Twitter account last week, Katz urged normalization of ties between Iraqis and Israelis.
He announced that the Israeli foreign ministry was launching a special Facebook page aimed at an Iraqi audience.
“We have many things in common,” he said.
“We hope relations will grow in a manner that serves both peoples.”
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
- Arab normalization
- Yuval Rotem
- Emmanuel Nahshon
- Mohammed Saud
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Al-Aqsa Mosque
- Yad Vashem
- Israeli Knesset
- Yehuda Glick
- Hassan Kaabia
- Leah Goldberg
- Iraqi Journalists Syndicate
- Palestinian Democratic Press Society
- Yisrael Katz
- Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa
- Abd al-Hamid al-Ghabin