DOHA, Qatar (AP) — It was uncharted territory for Israeli journalists. Wandering through a 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 robes and asked for an interview.
“Which channel?” asked Qatari. The journalist replied that he was from Israel’s public broadcaster Kahn.
The Qataris were stunned. “Where?”
“Israel,” repeated the journalist. A second later, the interview was over.
The exchange, which reflected the latest political flashpoint in the Arab world’s first World Cup, swept around social media — never mind that neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian national teams were competing in the tournament.
Controversies have followed Israelis and Palestinians pouring into Doha, revealing just how entrenched and emotional their violent century-old conflict remains.Including Israel’s open occupation of territories the Palestinians want for a future state.
Footage of the Doha encounter between a Qatari man and an Israeli journalist was shared by Palestinians, along with other clips of Palestinians and Qataris confronting Israeli reporters live on TV. They viewed it as proof that Qatar allowed Israelis to fly directly to Doha and receive consular support. For the first time in history, a conservative Muslim emirate has no intention of befriending Israel.
Tal Shorer, a sports reporter for Israel’s Channel 13, said he was pushed, insulted and abused by Palestinians and other Arab fans during live reports of the tournament.
“You’re killing babies!” Some Arab fans yelled at him during the broadcast this week.
Meanwhile, Qatari media published some such videos with the caption “No to normalization”. Officials in Qatar, with a history of public support for Palestine, have insisted that the temporary opening to the Israelis is only to comply with FIFA hosting requirements – not a step towards normalizing ties, as neighboring Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates did in 2020.. Qatar has warned that an escalation of violence in the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip could derail the system.
Nevertheless, thousands of Israeli soccer fans are expected to descend on Doha for the World Cup, with 10 direct flights planned for next month, according to diplomats.
Many Israeli fans marvel at the curious novelty in a country that has no diplomatic ties with Israel. Security-minded citizens are concerned with how safe they feel.
“My friends and family thought it was dangerous but it’s great,” 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 if you’re Jewish. Everyone cares about the game.”
Six Israeli diplomats have set up shop at a travel agency office in Doha, ready to respond to crises big and small. To limit potential problems, the Foreign Ministry has launched a campaign urging the Israelis to step down.
“We want to avoid any clashes with other fans and local authorities,” said delegation member Alon Lawi, adding that legions of fans from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries hostile to Israel or frosty are now flooding Qatar. “We want to remind (Israelis) … you don’t need to poke your fingers in other people’s eyes.”
Israelis have made themselves at home among the glittering skyscrapers of Doha. Qatar’s first kosher kitchen has been set up near the airport, serving classic eggy Jewish challah bread and olive and hummus sandwiches to hotels and fan circles. They plan to cook other food for the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday, with all ingredients conforming to kosher dietary rules.
“We received so many questions and requests,” said Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, who oversees the effort.
Israel’s major channels are allowed to broadcast from Doha, providing Israeli viewers with uninterrupted coverage of the matches. But unlike other major foreign networks, which are centered in downtown Doha, Israelis gets around without a formal studio.
Shorer said that while interactions with Qatari officials were entirely pleasant, the streets were a different story. He said he would advise Israeli fans to hide their Jewish kippahs and remove their Stars of David so as not to incite hostility. When the cellphone salesman noticed his friend’s Hebrew settings, he exploded with rage, screaming at the Israeli to get out of Doha.
“I was very excited to come up with an Israeli passport, hoping it would be something positive,” he said. “It’s sad, it’s uncomfortable. People were cursing and threatening 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 Israel’s creation – wrapped the streets of Doha in Palestinian flags this week. Some even sported Palestinian armbands.
A group of young Palestinians living in Doha chanted “Free Palestine!” Sunday while marching through Doha’s historic Souq Waqif market.
“We want everyone to know about what people in Palestine go through 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,” he said, adding that he was certain his presence was not Qatar’s choice. Doha mediates between Israel and the Hamas militant group and sends money 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 assured the travel arrangement would apply to Palestinians in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza, which is under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for 15 years. In the years since Hamas seized control there.
But five days into the tournament, it’s unclear how officials will handle that premise.
Senior Israeli diplomat Lior Hayat said all Palestinian fans wishing to leave Israel’s airport must obtain Israeli security approval to leave and return — an often difficult and unpredictable process. “It will take some time,” he admitted.
Imad Karakra, a spokesman for the Palestinian General Authority for Civil Affairs, said he had not heard of any Palestinians 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 exited to Egypt via the enclave’s Rafah border crossing.
Palestinian fans who had made the long journey felt their attendance at the world’s biggest sporting event served a political purpose.
“In 2022, I’m here to remind you that our land is still occupied,” said Mowaya Maher, a 31-year-old businessman from the particularly tense West Bank city of Hebron. He wore a Palestinian flag as a cape during a concert at the FIFA Fan Festival. “I think it’s a sad situation. But I’m proud.”