The moment Palestinians noticed the Saudi blogger at one of Islam’s holiest sites, they demonstrated to him how they treat their Arab brothers.

By Khaled Abu Toameh, The Gatestone Institute

When Saudi blogger Mohamed Saud arrived at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on July 22, he apparently thought he would peacefully pray at the site before proceeding to tour the markets of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Moreover, Saud apparently believed that as an Arab Muslim, he would be warmly welcomed by his Palestinian brothers.

He was wrong.

The moment Palestinians noticed the Saudi blogger at one of Islam’s holiest sites, they demonstrated to him how they treat their Arab brothers.

Videos that surfaced on social media showed a number of Palestinians hurling insults and spitting at Saud. One Palestinian later threw a plastic chair at him as he left the compound.

What did the Saudi visitor do to deserve this humiliation and physical abuse? What crime did he commit to be denounced as “garbage,” “animal,” and “traitor” and “Zionist?”

The unfortunate Saudi’s crime — in the eyes of the Palestinians — was that he was part of a delegation of Arab journalists invited to visit Israel. Such visits are often condemned by Palestinians as actions that lead to promoting normalization between Arabs and Israel. The Palestinians are strongly opposed to any form of normalization with Israel and consider it tantamount to treason. They are afraid that if the Arabs normalize their relations with Israel, they will stop caring about the Palestinians. The Palestinian position is that there can be no normalization between Israel and the Arabs before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.

This humiliating treatment was far from an isolated incident. The moment Palestinian media organizations learned about the arrival of the journalists to Israel, they rushed to issue statements denouncing the delegation and calling on Arabs and Muslims to blacklist the visitors.

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), a body dominated by loyalists of President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction, was the first to come out against the Arab journalists and accuse them of promoting normalization with Israel.

The PJS and other Palestinian media organizations called on the Federation of Arab Journalists to hold the journalists to account and add them to its “blacklist.” This order means that the journalists who visited Israel would be expelled from any union or organization to which they belonged. It also means that the visiting journalists would be boycotted by other Arab journalists and media organizations and refused employment.

Incitement from ‘Moderate’ Palestinian Regime

The main reason the Saudi blogger was assaulted and humiliated during his visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque was incitement. It came mainly from the PJS, a group affiliated with Fatah, and that has been described by some in the West, and even in Israel, as “moderate” and “pragmatic.”

Recently, the same Fatah-affiliated PJS warned Palestinian journalists against accepting an invitation by US presidential envoy Jason Greenblatt to visit the White House.

In June, the PJS condemned Bahrain for inviting Israeli journalists to cover the US-led “Prosperity to Peace” economic workshop in Bahrain.

Rami Alshrafi, one of the heads of the PJS in the Gaza Strip, threatened that his group would publicly shame any journalist who engaged in activities that could be looked upon as normalization with Israel. “We will publish a list of all those Arab journalists who take any normalization moves with the occupation state of Israel,” he said. “We will publish a blacklist of all those Arab journalistic organizations and journalists who host Israeli journalists.”

The PJS had, a few years ago, also initiated a boycott of Israeli journalists and threatened to boycott any Palestinian official that gives an interview to the Israeli media. In an interview, PJS chairman Nasser Abu Bakr, a former journalist with Agence France-Presse (AFP), explained that the decision was taken after his friends and he “reached the conclusions that no interview of [Palestinian] officials [to Israeli media] serves the Palestinian cause.”

Bizarrely, while Abbas’s syndicate has been repeatedly calling for a boycott of Israeli journalists, he continues to meet every now and then with representatives of the Israeli media. Needless to say, the PJS and its members have never condemned Abbas for violating their ban. They know that the day they utter a word against the Palestinian Authority president, they will either lose funding from the Palestinian government or be thrown into prison — or worse.

First, the Palestinian journalists incited the public against their Israeli colleagues and called for boycotting them. Next, they incited the public against Palestinian journalists who dared to meet with Israelis. Now, it is the turn of non-Palestinian Arab journalists to feel the heat.

Instead of welcoming the Arab journalists into Jerusalem and inviting them to visit Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian leadership, the Palestinians chose to insult and physically assault their Saudi visitor. As if that is not enough, they are also demanding that Arabs and Muslims punish the blogger and his colleagues for allegedly promoting normalization with Israel.

Future Palestinian Ties with Arab Countries?

The assault on the Saudi blogger does not bode well for the future of Palestinian relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

Several Saudis took to social media to express their disgust over the attack on Saud. “I can’t understand the wakaha (audacity) of the Palestinians who expressed joy over the assault,” said Saudi citizen Ibrahim Al-Sulieman.

Another Saudi, Abdullah, commented: “Although [Saud] represents only himself, the Palestinians exposed their hatred towards him only because he is from Saudi Arabia.”

While Israeli government officials were quick to denounce the “cruel” attack on the Saudi blogger, Palestinian leaders failed to condemn the incident, a response likely to aggravate tensions between the Palestinians and Saudi Arabia.

There is one additional reason the Palestinians do not want to see Saudis at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound: The Palestinians are probably afraid that Saudi Arabia is seeking the role of “custodian of holy sites” in Jerusalem, a role presently held by Jordan. Both Jordan and the Palestinians are believed to be strongly opposed to granting the Saudis any role in administering the holy sites in the city. A monopoly over the mosque brings them, they believe, prestige and respect in the Arab and Islamic countries.

The assault on the Saudi blogger is yet another sign of mounting tensions between the Palestinians and some Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. According to a few accounts, the Saudis have been launching a crackdown on Palestinians living in the kingdom by arresting and harassing dozens of them.

Reports about a rapprochement between several Arab states and Israel are worrying the Palestinians; they say they feel that their Arab bothers are turning their back on them. This sense of abandonment was reinforced by the refusal of Saudi Arabia and some Arab states to heed calls by the Palestinians to boycott the economic workshop in Bahrain.

A recent public opinion poll showed that 80% of surveyed Palestinians view the participation of Arab countries in the workshop as an abandonment of the Palestinian cause.

In a way, the Palestinians are right: their Arab brothers are indeed starting to turn their backs on them. The Palestinians might wish to ask themselves the important question: why this is happening? Here is a hint: Spitting in the face of a Saudi blogger and cursing him as an “animal” and “Zionist” is not behavior conducive to luring cash from his state — or any other self-respecting entity — that refuses to be slapped in the face while providing handouts.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.

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