DOHA, Qatar (AP) — This was uncharted territory for the Israeli journalist. Wandering through the rustic outdoor market in Doha before the start of the World Cup, he zeroed in on a Qatari man in his traditional headdress and white flowing robe and asked for an interview.
“What channel?” asked the Qatari. The journalist replied that he was from Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster.
The Qatari was amazed. “Where?”
“Israel,” the journalist repeated. A split second later, the interview was over.
The exchange reverberated around social media, reflecting the latest political flashpoint in the first World Cup in the Arab world – never mind that neither Israel nor Palestinian national teams compete in the tournament.
Controversy has followed Israelis and Palestinians pouring into Doha, revealing just how entrenched and emotional the very violent century-old conflict remains.Including Israel’s open occupation of lands that 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 this as proof that although 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 settling down with Israel.
Israeli Channel 13 sports reporter Tal Shorer said he was pushed, insulted and accosted by Palestinian and other Arab fans during his live coverage of the tournament.
“You’re killing babies!” Some Arab fans shouted as they rammed into him during a broadcast this week.
Qatari media currently published several such videos with the caption: “No to normalization.” Officials in Qatar, with their history of public support for the Palestinians, have insisted that the temporary opening for Israelis is only to comply with FIFA hosting requirements – not a step towards normalizing relations like neighboring Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in 2020. Qatar has warned that an increase in violence in the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip would derail the order.
Nevertheless, 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 has no diplomatic relations with Israel. Security-minded citizens notice how safe they feel.
“My friends and family thought it might be dangerous, but it’s good,” said Eli Agami, an authority who lives near Tel Aviv. “I don’t go around telling people, but I don’t think anyone cares whether you are Israeli or Jewish. Everyone 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. In order to limit potential problems, the Foreign Ministry launched a campaign asking 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 legions of fans from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries either hostile or frosty to Israel now flooding Qatar. “We want to remind (Israel)… you don’t have to stick your fingers in other people’s eyes.”
Israelis have made themselves at home among Doha’s magnificent skyscrapers. Qatar’s first kosher kitchen opened near the airport, supplying hotels and fan zones with the classic Eggy-Jewish challah bread and olive and hummus sandwiches. They plan to cook other food for the Jewish Sabbath that begins Friday at sundown, with all ingredients conforming to kosher dietary laws.
“We received many, many questions and requests,” said Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, who oversaw the effort.
Israel’s main channels were allowed to broadcast from Doha, providing Israeli viewers with continuous coverage of the matches. But unlike other large foreign networks centered in Dochshaut, the Israelis roam without a formal studio.
Shorer said that while interactions with Qatari officials were quite pleasant, the streets were a different story. He said that he urges the Israeli fans to hide their Jewish hijabs and take out their Magen David, so as not to provoke hostility. When a cellphone salesman noticed his friend’s settings in Hebrew, he exploded with anger, yelling at the Israeli to get out of Doha.
“I was so excited to come with an Israeli passport, I thought 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 over the creation of Israel – trooped through the streets of Doha this week draped in Palestinian flags. Some also sported 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 are experiencing in Palestine, so that more people will support us,” said the 26-year-old marcher Sarah Shadid.
She laughed awkwardly when asked about the contribution of Israeli pens.
“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 Hamas militant group and sends money for the salaries of the civil servants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
When FIFA announced the unprecedented direct flights from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv to Doha, Qatari authorities promised 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, since Hamas seized control there.
But five days into the tournament, it remained unclear how officials would enforce the concession.
A senior Israeli diplomat, Lior Hayat, said all Palestinian fans seeking to fly out of Israel’s airport must obtain Israeli security clearance to leave and return – an often gruesome and unpredictable process. “It takes a while,” he acknowledged.
Imad Karakra, spokesman for the Palestinian Authority for Civil Affairs, said he had not heard of any Palestinians asking Israel for permission to leave Ben Gurion. Palestinians from the West Bank traveled to Qatar from Jordan’s airport this week, while Palestinians in 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’m here as a reminder that in 2022, our country is still occupied,” said Moawya Maher, a 31-year-old businessman from Hebron, a particularly tense West Bank city. He danced at a concert at the FIFA flag festival, wearing a Palestinian flag as a hood. “I think it’s a miserable situation. But I’m also proud.”