DOHA, Qatar (AP) — It was uncharted territory for the Israeli journalist. Wandering through a rustic outdoor market in Doha before the start of the World Cup, he bumped into a Qatari in his traditional robe and white flowing robe and asked for an interview.
“Which channel?” asked the Qatari. The journalist replied that he was from Khan, the Israeli public broadcaster.
The Qatari was stunned. “Where?”
“Israel,” repeated the journalist. A split second later, the interview ended.
The exchange ricocheted across social media, reflecting the latest political flashpoint at the Arab world’s first World Cup — never mind that neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian national teams are competing in the tournament.
Controversy ensued that spilled over between Israelis and Palestinians in Doha, revealing just how deep-rooted and emotional their violent age-old conflict is.including Israel’s open occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state.
The Palestinians shared footage of the meeting in Doha between the Qatari and the Israeli journalist, along with other clips of Palestinians and Qataris angrily confronting Israeli journalists live on television. They saw it as proof that even though Qatar had 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 rapprochement with Israel.
Israeli Channel 13 sports reporter Tal Shorer said he was pushed, insulted and attacked by Palestinians and other Arab fans during his live reports from the tournament.
“You’re killing babies!” several Arab fans shouted as they bumped into him during a broadcast this week.
Meanwhile, Qatari media published such videos with the caption: “No to normalization.” Officials in Qatar, with their history of public support for the Palestinians, insist the temporary opening to the Israelis is purely to comply with FIFA’s hosting requirements – not a move to normalize ties as neighboring Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have done in 2020 year.. Qatar warned that an increase in violence in the occupied West Bank or the Gaza Strip would derail the arrangement.
Still, thousands of Israeli soccer fans are expected to descend on Doha for the World Cup, diplomats say, including some on 10 direct flights planned over the next month.
Many Israeli fans marvel at the intriguing novelty of being in a country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Security-minded citizens notice how safe they feel.
“My friends and family thought it could be dangerous, but it’s OK,” 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 just cares about the game.”
Six Israeli diplomats have set up shop in a travel agency office in Doha, ready to respond to crises big and small. To limit potential problems, the Foreign Ministry launched a campaign urging Israelis to lie low.
“We want to avoid any friction with other fans and local authorities,” said Alon Lavi, a member of the delegation, citing the legions of fans from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries either hostile or cool to Israel who are now flooding Qatar. “We want to remind (Israelis) … you should not poke your fingers in other people’s eyes.”
Israelis have become at home among the glittering skyscrapers of Doha. Qatar’s first kosher kitchen set up near the airport, supplying hotels and fan zones with classic Jewish challah bread with egg and olive and hummus sandwiches. They plan to cook other food for the Jewish Sabbath that begins Friday at sundown, with all ingredients in compliance with kosher dietary laws.
“We’ve gotten many, many questions and requests,” said Rabbi Mandy Chitrick, who oversees the effort.
The main Israeli channels were allowed to broadcast from Doha, giving Israeli viewers continuous coverage of the matches. But unlike other major foreign networks centrally located in downtown Doha, Israelis roam around without a formal studio.
Schorer said that while interactions with Qatari officials were perfectly pleasant, the streets were a different story. He said he advises Israeli fans to hide their Jewish kippahs and discard their Stars of David to avoid provoking hostility. When a mobile phone salesman noticed his friend’s settings in Hebrew, he exploded with anger, screaming at the Israeli to get out of Doha.
“I was so excited to come 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 in the 1948 war to create Israel – streamed through 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!” as they marched 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 26-year-old marcher Sarah Shadid.
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 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, Qatari officials promised that the travel arrangement 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 after Hamas took control there.
But five days into the tournament, it remained unclear how officials would carry out that premise.
A senior Israeli diplomat, Lior Hayat, said any Palestinian fans wishing to fly out of an Israeli airport must obtain approval from Israeli security to leave and return – an often arduous and unpredictable process. “It takes some time,” he admitted.
Imad Karakra, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority for Civil Affairs, said he had not heard of any Palestinians seeking Israeli permission to leave Ben Gurion. Palestinians from the West Bank traveled to Qatar from an airport in Jordan this week, while Palestinians in Gaza exited to Egypt via the enclave’s Rafah border crossing.
Palestinian fans who made the long journey said they felt their presence at the world’s biggest sporting event served a political purpose.
“I’m here as a reminder that in 2022, our country is still occupied,” said Moavya 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 cape. “I guess it’s a miserable situation. “But I’m also proud.”