DOHA, Qatar (AP) — It was uncharted territory for the Israeli journalist. Wandering through a local outdoor market in Doha before the start of the World Cup, he spotted a Qatari man wearing a traditional headdress and flowing white dress and asked for an interview.
“Which channel?” Qatar asked. The journalist replied that he was from Cannes, Israel’s public broadcaster.
Qatar was stunned. “Where?”
“Israel,” repeated the journalist. A second later the interview was over.
Social media was flooded with the exchange, which reflected the latest political flashpoint in the Arab world’s first World Cup — never mind that neither Israeli nor Palestinian national teams are competing in the tournament.
Controversy has followed the influx of Israelis and Palestinians into Doha, revealing just how entrenched and emotional their centuries-old violent conflict is.Including Israel’s open occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state.
Palestinians have shared footage of the Doha confrontation between a Qatari and an Israeli journalist, as well as other clips of Palestinians and Qataris confronting angry Israeli reporters live on TV. They saw it as evidence that Qatar had allowed Israelis to fly directly to Doha and receive consular support. For the first time in its history, the conservative Muslim emirate has no intention of aligning with Israel.
Israel’s Channel 13 sports reporter Tal Shorer said he was pushed, insulted and insulted by Palestinians and other Arab fans during live reports from the tournament.
“You’re killing babies!” A few Arab fans bumped into him during a broadcast this week.
Qatari media meanwhile published some such videos with the caption “No Normalization”. Officials in Qatar, which has a history of public support for the Palestinians, insist the temporary opening to the Israelis is only in compliance with FIFA hosting requirements — not a move to normalize ties, as neighboring Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates did in 2020.. Qatar has warned that any escalation of violence in the occupied West Bank or the Gaza Strip could derail the arrangement.
Still, thousands of Israeli soccer fans are expected to descend on Doha for the World Cup, diplomats say, including 10 direct flights planned for next month.
Many Israeli fans marvel at the curious novelty of being in a country with no diplomatic ties to Israel. Safety-minded citizens rate how safe they feel.
“My friends and family thought it was dangerous, but it’s good,” said Eli Agami, an aviation executive who lives near Tel Aviv. “I’m not going to tell people, but I don’t think anyone cares if you’re Israeli or Jewish. Everyone only cares about the game.
Six Israeli diplomats set up shop in a travel agency office in Doha 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 conflict with other fans and local authorities,” said Alon Lavi, a member of the delegation, citing the many fans from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries that Israel is now flooding Qatar with hostility or snow. “We want to remind (Israelis) … not to point your fingers into other people’s eyes.”
Israelis have made themselves at home among the glittering skyscrapers of Doha. Qatar’s first kosher kitchen is set up near the airport, supplying hotels and fan zones with classic eggy Jewish challah bread and olive and hummus sandwiches. They plan to cook other meals for the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday, with all ingredients conforming to kosher dietary laws.
“We have received many questions and requests,” said Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, who oversees the effort.
Israel’s main channels have been granted permission to broadcast from Doha, providing Israeli viewers with continuous coverage of the matches. But unlike other major foreign chains, which are centrally located in Doha, Israelis roam without a formal studio.
Schorer said the interaction with Qatari officials was quite pleasant, but the streets were a different story. He said he advises Israeli worshipers to cover their Jewish kippahs and leave their Stars of David to avoid animosity. When a cellphone salesman overheard his friend’s Hebrew arrangements, he exploded with anger and shouted at the Israeli to get out of Doha.
“I was very excited to come with an Israeli passport and thought it would be something positive,” he said. “It’s sad, it’s sickening. People cursed and threatened us.
Palestinian worshipers from across the Arab world – including descendants of those who fled or were forced from their homes in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation – lined the streets of Doha this week with Palestinian flags. Some also sported Palestinian armbands.
A group of Palestinian youths living in Doha chanted, “Free Palestine!” shouted. while marching through Doha’s historic Souq Waqif market on Sunday.
“We want everyone to know about the occupation of Palestine and what people are going through, so more people support us,” said 26-year-old marcher Sarah Shadid.
When asked about the influx of Israeli fans, she giggled.
“I’m a bit upset,” she said, adding that she was sure their presence was not Qatar’s choice. Doha mediates and sends money between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group for the salaries of 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 officials promised the travel arrangement would apply to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, which have been under a 15-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade. Years after Hamas seized control there.
But five days into the tournament, it’s unclear how officials will implement that introduction.
Senior Israeli diplomat Lior Hayat said all Palestinian pilgrims wishing to fly from an Israeli airport must obtain Israeli security clearance to depart and return — an often arduous and unpredictable process. “It will take some time,” he admitted.
Imad Kharakhra, a spokesman for the Palestinian General Authority for Civil Affairs, said he had not heard of any Palestinian seeking Israeli permission to leave from Ben-Gurion. Palestinians from the West Bank traveled to Qatar this week from an airport in Jordan, while Palestinians in Gaza crossed the enclave’s Rafah border and exited into Egypt.
Palestinian fans who made the long journey said they felt they were attending the world’s biggest sporting event for a political purpose.
“I came here as a reminder that our land is still under occupation in 2022,” said Movia Maher, a 31-year-old businessman from the particularly conflict-ridden West Bank city of Hebron. He was wearing a Palestinian flag as a cape and dancing at a concert at the FIFA Fans Festival. “I think it’s a sad state of affairs. But I am also proud.”