A prominent Saudi cleric announced on his television show that he will visit the occupied Jerusalem next week to support Muslim claims to the city, according to media reports on Monday.AP adds:
"I will shoot the next episode of 'Put your Fingerprint’ show in Jerusalem," Sheik Mohammed al-Areefi said, adding that Muslims have an obligation to Jerusalem.
A Saudi official says a cleric who announced that he will visit Jerusalem for a TV episode on claims to the city will be punished if he travels there.An Asharq al-Awsat columnist is upset:
The state-owned Al-Watan newspaper on Wednesday quoted the passports office spokesman Lt. Col. Badr Malik as saying visiting Israel is prohibited and any violator is punishable under the law.
Sheik Mohammed al-Areefi told his viewers Sunday on his television show that he will visit Jerusalem next week to support Muslim claims to the city.
Associates of the cleric have since said he was misquoted and does not plan to take the trip.
It’s not the controversy surrounding the announcement made by the Saudi preacher Dr. Mohammed al Arifi to visit Jerusalem to film an episode of his weekly program there that bothers me. Rather, what worries me is the following question to al Arifi, his supporters and others; what about the Arab journalists who want to cover the Sheikh’s visit and the moment he enters Israel? Will they be held accountable for normalizing [ties] with the enemy or not? Will the [news] agencies and the press of slogans launch attacks against the journalists? Will the satellite channels that broadcast religious preaching programs send their correspondents to Israel to cover the visit?You see, he is placing other Arab journalists in an uncomfortable position because of their twisted policy not to cover news in Israel, so by definition he is being a childish publicity hound.
Finally, Asharq al Awsat reports:
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that they did not object to the Saudi cleric's visit, and that he could apply for an entry visa from the Israeli consulate in Amman.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman reportedly said "throughout the years many people from countries like Libya, Indonesia and other countries that don't have relations with Israel have visited Jerusalem." He added that "all these visits were naturally coordinated with Israeli authorities."
Sources also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Saudi cleric Muhammad al-Arifi is currently in the Jordanian capital, where he is delivering religious lectures at the Al-Isra University.
Informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that at the time of publication, Sheikh al-Arifi had yet to complete the procedures to obtain an entry visa to visit Jerusalem.
There is extreme secrecy surrounding the details of this visit, and the Iqra TV officials are refusing to clarify any information on this, saying that all details will be revealed on Friday by Sheikh al-Arifi himself during his next episode of "Da'Basmatak."
The source who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity also said that al-Arifi is not visiting Jerusalem as a propagandist or a media figure; however he refused to clarify the purpose of al-Arifi's visit. The source also denied any coordination with the Hamas movement with regards to this visit.
Al-Arifi's announcement received a lot of criticism, with many considering any visit that includes coordination with Israel to be part of normalizing relations. Sheikh Hamed al-Betawi, head of the Palestinian Scholars League and a preacher at the Al-Aqsa Mosque has called for Sheikh al-Arifi not to visit Jerusalem. In a statement published by the Muslim Brotherhood website Ikhwan Online, Sheikh al-Betawi, who is also Hamas's Spiritual Guide, said that "with all appreciation and respect towards Sheikh al-Arifi for the role that he has played in the service of Islam and for his support for the legitimate resistance; we object to this visit, because it comes at a time when the Al-Aqsa Mosque remains in the grip of occupation, and rather we hope that such a visit will take place following the liberation of Jerusalem."