Muslim worshipers pray at the al-Aqsa compound, also known as The Temple Mount, during Ramadan. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty)

Saudi Blogger Attacked on Rare Arab Media Visit to Israel (with VIDEO)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu touts visit as evidence of growing rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world

Though opposed to the rare visit of a group of six Arab journalists and bloggers to Israel as guests of the Foreign Ministry, some Palestinians said the attack on one of the delegation members in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday was unwarranted.

Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud, who posts pro-Israel blogs vocally calling for peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia, was insulted, spat upon and had chairs and other objects thrown at him as he toured the Old City and visited the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, considered holy by both Muslims and Jews.

Video shows Saud trying to fend off the attacks with his bisht coat, worn traditionally in Saudi Arabia for special occasions, including religious holidays

“In light of the general consensus in the Arab world that normalization between Israel and the Arab world should come after Israel withdraws from Arab territory occupied in 1967, [the visit] is like crossing an invisible picket line without any coordination with [Palestinians],” Jordanian-based Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab told The Media Line.

“Having said that,” he qualified, “I am not in favor of violence, and certainly not in favor of violence toward people coming to pray [at the Al-Aqsa Mosque] violating the sanctity of the holy place.”

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Media Line that “immediately after the incident” three suspects were arrested and that an investigation was ongoing. Several Palestinian journalists and residents have been summoned for questioning by authorities.

Other members of the delegation come from Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt. They entered into Israel through Jordan on July 21.

Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the UAE do not have formal ties with Israel.

The media personalities are in Israel on a five-day visit meant to “expose the Arab world to Israel’s society and landscapes, its cultural diversity and spirit of innovation,” Nizar Amer, acting spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry told The Media Line.

“It is an important step in promoting a better understanding between the nations,” he added.

While in Jerusalem, the group was slated to visit Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament), and some additional holy sites. The visitors were also scheduled to meet with lawmakers, officials at the Foreign Ministry, academic figures as well as with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Thereafter, the group will tour Tel Aviv and cities in northern Israel such as Haifa and Nazareth.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate condemned the visit, calling it a “stab in the back” to those who oppose normalization with Israel.

Kuttab noted that the delegation had visited the Knesset and that Saud – the only blogger to have been named publicly – appeared in photographs with Israeli Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud); this, on the same day that Israeli forces demolished Palestinian structures in Sur Baher, located in the eastern part of Jerusalem.

Concurrently, a Palestinian journalist was being held by Israelis prior to being deported for purportedly lacking a proper residency permit.

“People follow the news, they follow Twitter. [Saud] has to understand that people have feelings,” said Kuttab. “If the bloggers want to come to learn about the situation of the Palestinians there is no problem… but this visit was done in a very boastful way and they are not coming to learn.”

According to Israeli media reports, in comments following his meeting with the visitors, Netanyahu emphasized the importance of having Arab journalists realize the role Israel could play in ensuring their own future “security and development.” Netanyahu also reportedly said that the delegation had told him that “many” people in the Arab world wanted to forge peace with the Jewish state but were not “always free to express it.”

Hebrew University political scientist lecturer Dr. Yonatan Freeman told The Media Line that it was “not surprising” that Israel is seeking to influence the Muslim world by engaging with its younger generation, challenging the more conservative elements in those countries.

“The more Iran is challenging us with military and terrorism… the more there are those in the Muslim Arab world – especially those who are being threatened by Tehran – who are being caused to become closer to us,” Freeman said.

He added that the Israel Defense Forces has an Arabic-language spokesman as well as a popular Arabic-language Facebook page.

Reflecting on the attack against the Saudi blogger, Old City resident Amin Fadel Nabulsi told The Media Line that Palestinians were aware of Saud’s social media posts and though he was not “well received,” according to Muslim teachings if one “makes a mistake and asks for forgiveness God will forgive him.

“People should have respected this person and explained to him the realities on the ground. Maybe he misunderstood the status of Jerusalem and what the Al-Aqsa means,” said Nabulsi.

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