DOHA, Qatar (AP) — It was uncharted territory for an Israeli journalist. Wandering through a rustic open-air market in Doha before the World Cup, he spotted a traditional Qatari headdress and flowing white robe and asked for an interview.
“Which channel?” asked the Qatari. The journalist replied that he was from Kano, Israel’s public broadcaster.
Qatar was overwhelmed. “Where?”
“Israel,” repeated the reporter. After a split second, the interview ended.
The exchange ricocheted across social media, marking the latest political flare-up at the Arab world’s first World Cup – never mind that neither Israel nor Palestine are participating in the tournament.
The influx of Israelis and Palestinians to Doha has been followed by clashes that have revealed just how deep-rooted and emotional their century-long conflict remains.including Israel’s indefinite occupation of the lands the Palestinians want for a future state.
Palestinians shared footage of the confrontation between a Qatari and Israeli journalist in Doha on live television, as well as other clips of Palestinians and Qataris angrily confronting Israeli journalists. They saw this as evidence that while Qatar allowed Israelis to fly directly to Doha and receive consular support for the first time in history, a conservative Muslim emirate is not going to sympathize with Israel.
Tal Shorer, a sports reporter for Israel’s Channel 13, said he was pushed, insulted and accosted by Palestinians and other Arab fans during his live coverage of the tournament.
“You’re killing babies!” Several Arab fans screamed as they stormed him during this week’s broadcast.
Meanwhile, Qatari media published several such videos with the caption: “No to normalization.” Qatari officials, who have public support for the Palestinians, insisted the temporary opening to Israelis was only for FIFA’s hosting requirements – not a step towards normalizing ties, as neighboring Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates did in 2020.. Qatar warned that a spike in violence in the occupied West Bank or Gaza would derail the deal.
Despite this, thousands of Israeli soccer fans are expected to descend on Doha for the World Cup, diplomats say, including 10 direct flights planned over the next month.
Many Israel fans marvel at the intriguing novelty of being in a country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Security-conscious citizens notice how safe they feel.
“My friends and family thought it might be dangerous, but everything is fine,” said Eli Agami, an aviation executive who lives near Tel Aviv. “I don’t go around telling people, but I don’t think anyone cares if you’re Israeli or Jewish. Everyone only cares about the game.”
Six Israeli diplomats have set up shop in a travel agency’s office in Doha, ready to respond to crises big and small. To limit potential problems, the Foreign Office launched a campaign calling on the Israelis to come down.
“We want to avoid any friction with other fans and local authorities,” delegation member Alon Lavie said, citing the legions of fans from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries hostile or cold toward Israel now flooding into Qatar. “We want to remind (Israelis) … you don’t have to stick your fingers in other people’s eyes.
Israelis feel at home among the glittering skyscrapers of Doha. Qatar’s first kosher kitchen, located near the airport, supplies hotels and fan zones with classic egg challah bread and olive and hummus sandwiches. They plan to cook a different meal for the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday, and all ingredients comply with kosher dietary laws.
“We’ve had many, many questions and requests,” said Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, who oversees the effort.
Major Israeli channels have been allowed to broadcast from Doha, giving Israeli viewers constant coverage of the match. However, unlike other major foreign networks located in the heart of Doha, Israelis roam without an official studio.
Shorrer said that while dealing with Qatari officials was completely pleasant, the streets were a different story. He said he advises Israel’s fans to hide their Jewish kippahs and ditch the Stars of David to avoid causing hostility. When the mobile phone salesman noticed his friend’s settings in Hebrew, he exploded with anger and shouted at the Israeli to get out of Doha.
“I was very happy to arrive with an Israeli passport, thinking it would be something positive,” he said. “It’s sad, it’s unpleasant. People cursed and threatened us.”
Palestinian fans from across the Arab world, including descendants of those who fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 war for the creation of Israel, walked the streets of Doha this week wearing Palestinian flags. Some also wore Palestinian armbands.
A group of young Palestinians living in Doha chanted: “Free Palestine!” walking through Doha’s historic Souq Waqif market on Sunday.
“We want everyone to know about the occupation and what people are going through in Palestine so that more people will support us,” said marcher Sarah Shadid, 26.
She laughed awkwardly when asked about the influx of Israeli fans.
“I’m a little upset,” she said, adding that she was sure their presence was not Qatar’s choice. Doha mediates between Israel and the militant group Hamas, sending cash to pay civil servants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
When FIFA announced unprecedented direct flights from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport to Doha, Qatari authorities promised that travel would also be extended to Palestinians in both the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which has been under a damaging Israeli-Egyptian blockade for 15 years. years since Hamas took control there.
But five days into the tournament, it remains unclear how officials will implement that assumption.
A senior Israeli diplomat, Lior Hayat, said that all Palestinian fans who want to fly out of an Israeli airport must obtain an exit and re-entry permit from Israeli security, an often tedious and unpredictable process. “It takes time,” he admitted.
Imad Qaraqra, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority for Civil Affairs, said he had not heard of Palestinians asking Israel for permission to leave Ben Gurion. Palestinians from the West Bank traveled to Qatar from a Jordanian airport this week, while Palestinians from Gaza traveled to Egypt via the enclave’s Rafah border crossing.
Palestinian fans who made the long journey said they believed their participation in the world’s biggest sporting event was politically motivated.
“I am here to remind you that in 2022 our land is still occupied,” said Moawya Maher, a 31-year-old businessman from Hebron, a particularly tense West Bank city. He danced at a FIFA fan festival concert wearing a Palestinian flag as a cloak. “I think it’s an unfortunate situation. But I’m also proud.”