Israeli-Palestinian conflict catches up with Qatar World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) – It was uncharted territory for the Israeli journalist. Wandering through a rustic open-air market in Doha before the start of the World Cup, he zeroed in on a Qatari in his traditional headdress and flowing white robe and asked for an interview.

“Which channel?” asked the Qatari. The journalist replied that he was from Khan, Israel’s public television.

The Qatari was stunned. “Where?”

“Israel,” the journalist repeated. A split second later, the interview ended.

The exchange spread around 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 has followed the Israeli-Palestinian rush to Doha, revealing just how deep-rooted and emotional their violent century-long conflict is.including Israel’s endless occupation of the lands the Palestinians want for a future state.

Palestinians shared footage of a meeting in Doha between a Qatari and an Israeli journalist, along with other clips of Palestinians and Qataris angrily confronting Israeli journalists live on TV. They saw this as evidence that although 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 pandering to Israel.

Israel’s Channel 13 sports reporter Tal Shorrer said he was pushed, insulted and accosted by Palestinians and other Arab fans during his live coverage of the tournament.

“You kill babies!” shouted several Arab fans as they crashed into him this week.

In the meantime, the Qatari media published several such videos with the caption: “No to normalization”. Officials in Qatar, with its history of public support for the Palestinians, insisted the temporary opening to the Israelis was purely to comply with FIFA’s hosting requirements – not a step towards normalizing ties as neighboring Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates did in 2020. .. Qatar warned that an increase in violence in the occupied West Bank or the Gaza Strip would derail the deal.

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Regardless, thousands of Israeli soccer fans are expected to come to 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-conscious citizens note how safe they feel.

“My friends and family thought it might 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. All that matters to everyone is the game.”

Six Israeli diplomats have taken up residence in the office of a travel agency in Doha, ready to respond to big and small crises. To limit possible problems, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a campaign urging Israelis to keep quiet.

“We want to avoid any friction with other fans and local authorities,” said Alon Lavie, a member of the delegation, citing the legions of fans from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries hostile or cold toward Israel now flooding into Qatar. “We want to remind (Israelis) … that you should not stick your fingers in other people’s eyes.”

Israelis have made themselves 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 egg bread and olive and hummus sandwiches. They plan to cook other food for the Jewish Shabbat, which begins Friday at sundown, with all ingredients that comply with kosher dietary regulations.

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“We received many, many questions and requests,” said Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, who is overseeing the effort.

Major Israeli channels are allowed to broadcast from Doha, allowing Israeli viewers to continuously follow the matches. But unlike other large foreign networks centrally located in downtown Doha, Israelis roam around without an official studio.

Shorrer said that while interacting with Qatari officials was perfectly pleasant, the streets were a different story. He said he was advising Israeli fans to hide their Jewish statues and discard their Stars of David to avoid provoking hostility. When the mobile phone salesman noticed his friend’s settings in Hebrew, he exploded with rage, shouting 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 embarrassing. People cursed and threatened us.”

Palestinian supporters from across the Arab world – including descendants of those who fled or were forced from their homes in the 1948 war to create Israel – walked 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!” 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 26-year-old marcher Sarah Shadid.

She laughed awkwardly when asked about the influx of Israeli fans.

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“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 unprecedented direct flights from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport to Doha, Qatari authorities promised that the travel arrangement would also extend to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since 15 years. since Hamas took control there.

But five days into the tournament, it remained unclear how officials would implement that premise.

A senior Israeli diplomat, Lior Haiat, said any Palestinian fans wishing to fly out of an Israeli airport must be cleared by Israeli security services to leave and return – an often arduous and unpredictable process. “It takes a while,” he admitted.

Imad Qaraqra, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority for Civil Affairs, said he had not heard that any Palestinians had asked Ben Gurion for Israeli permission to leave. Palestinians from the West Bank traveled to Qatar this week from a Jordanian airport, while Palestinians in Gaza crossed into Egypt via the Rafah enclave border crossing.

Palestinian fans who made the long journey said they felt their attendance at the world’s biggest sporting event had a political purpose.

“I am 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 Fan Festival, wearing the Palestinian flag as a cloak. “I guess it’s a miserable situation. But I’m also proud.”

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