DOHA, Qatar (AP) — It was unfamiliar territory for the Israeli journalist. Strolling through the rustic open-air market in Doha before the start of the World Cup, he zeroed in on a Qatari man in his traditional headdress and white robe and asked for an interview.
“What channel?” asked the Qatari. The journalist replied that it was from Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster.
The Qatari was stunned. “Where?”
“Israel”, the journalist repeated. A split second later, the interview was over.
The exchange reverberated on social media, reflecting the latest political flashpoint in the first World Cup in the Arab world, never mind that neither Israeli nor Palestinian teams compete in the tournament.
Controversy has followed Israelis and Palestinians arriving in Doha, revealing just how deep-seated and emotional their centuries-old violent conflict remains.including Israel’s unlimited occupation of land the Palestinians want for a future state.
The Palestinians shared footage of the Doha meeting between the Qatari man and the Israeli journalist, along with other clips of Palestinians and Qataris angrily confronting Israeli reporters live on television. They saw it as proof that although Qatar has allowed Israelis to fly directly to Doha and receive consular support For the first time in history, the conservative Muslim emirate has no intention of reaching out to Israel.
Israel Channel 13 sports reporter Tal Shorrer said he was shoved, insulted and tackled by Palestinians and other Arab fans during his live reporting of the tournament.
“You’re killing babies!” some Arab fans screamed when they rammed him during a broadcast this week.
Meanwhile, the Qatari media have published some such videos with the title: “No to normalization”. Officials in Qatar, with their record of public support for the Palestinians, have insisted that the temporary opening to the Israelis was simply to comply with FIFA hosting requirements, not a step to normalize ties as the neighbors did. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in 2020.. Qatar has warned that an increase in violence in the occupied West Bank or the Gaza Strip would derail the deal.
Nonetheless, thousands of Israeli soccer fans are expected to arrive in Doha for the World Cup, diplomats say, including some on 10 planned direct flights over the next month.
Many Israeli fans marvel at the intriguing novelty of being in a country that has no diplomatic relations with Israel. Security-conscious citizens comment on how safe they feel.
“My friends and family thought it might be dangerous, but it’s okay,” 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. Everybody cares about the game.”
Six Israeli diplomats settled in the office of a travel agency in Doha, ready to respond to crises large and small. To limit potential problems, the Foreign Ministry has launched a campaign urging Israelis to stay hidden.
“We want to avoid any friction with other fans and local authorities,” said Alon Lavie, a member of the delegation, citing legions of fans from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries hostile or cold towards Israel now flooding into Qatar. “We want to remind (Israelis)… that they don’t need to stick their fingers in other people’s eyes.”
Israelis have felt right at home among Doha’s glittering skyscrapers. Qatar’s first kosher kitchen was set up near the airport, supplying hotels and fan areas with classic Jewish challah bread with egg and olive and hummus sandwiches. They plan to cook other foods for the Jewish Sabbath that begins Friday at sundown, with all ingredients conforming to kosher dietary laws.
“We have received many, many questions and requests,” said Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, who is overseeing the effort.
Israel’s main channels have been allowed to broadcast from Doha, giving Israeli viewers continuous coverage of the matches. But unlike other major foreign chains centrally located in downtown Doha, Israelis roam around without a formal studio.
Shorrer said that while interactions with Qatari officials had been perfectly pleasant, the streets were a different story. He said he advises Israeli fanatics to hide their Jewish yarmulkes and get rid of their Stars of David so as not to provoke hostility. When a cell phone salesman noticed his friend’s settings in Hebrew, he exploded in anger and yelled at the Israeli to get out of Doha.
“I was so excited to come with an Israeli passport, thinking it would be a positive thing,” he said. “It’s sad, it’s unpleasant. People insulted and threatened us.”
Palestinian fans from across the Arab world, including the descendants of those who fled or were forced from their homes in the 1948 war over the creation of Israel, roamed the streets of Doha this week draped in Palestinian flags. Some also wore Palestinian armbands.
A group of young Palestinians living in Doha chanted: “Free Palestine!” while marching through Doha’s historic Souq Waqif market on Sunday.
“We want everyone to know about the occupation and what people in Palestine are experiencing so that more people will support us,” said Sarah Shadid, a 26-year-old protester.
He laughed awkwardly when asked about the influx of Israeli fans.
“I’m a little upset,” she said, adding that she was sure her presence was not Qatar’s choice. Doha mediates between Israel and the Hamas militant group and sends cash for the salaries of civil servants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
When FIFA announced the unprecedented direct flights from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport to Doha, the Qatari authorities promised that the travel agreement would also apply to Palestinians in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade for 15 years. years, since Hamas took control there.
But five days after the start of the tournament, it was not clear how officials would carry out that premise.
A senior Israeli diplomat, Lior Haiat, said that all Palestinian fans seeking to fly out of Israel’s airport must obtain Israeli security approval to leave and return, an often grueling and unpredictable process. “It takes a while,” he acknowledged.
Imad Qaraqra, spokesman for the Palestinian General Authority for Civil Affairs, said he had not heard of any Palestinian seeking Israeli permission to leave Ben Gurion. Palestinians from the West Bank traveled to Qatar this week from Jordan’s airport, while Palestinians from Gaza left for Egypt through the enclave’s Rafah border crossing.
Palestinian fans who made the long journey said they felt their attendance at the world’s biggest sporting event served a political purpose.
“I am here to remember 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 was dancing at a concert at the FIFA Fan Festival, wearing a Palestinian flag as a cape. “I guess it’s a miserable situation. But I’m also proud.”