One of the videos shows an Egyptian soccer fan smiling softly while being introduced live by an Israeli broadcaster. Then he leans into the microphone with the message: “Long live Palestine.”
Another clip from the streets of Doha this week shows a group of Lebanese men walking away from a one-on-one interview with a reporter they have just learned is Israeli. Someone shouts over his shoulder: “There is no Israel. It is Palestine.”
With hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world flocking to Qatar this week for the World Cup finals, this was among the awkward encounters between Arab soccer fans and Israeli journalists that went viral on Middle Eastern social media, one of many political sources. . Friction in a tournament that has yet to get rid of the myriad feuds.
For the host country, organizing the World Cup involved careful negotiations about the presence of LGBTQ+ fans, public displays of affection, and the availability of beer and wine. What was less noticeable in the West, but no less dangerous, was the emirate’s absorption of Israeli football fans and media, a concession to FIFA rules to host the multi-billion dollar tournament.
Qatar has no official relations with Israel, but it has granted special permission for direct flights from Tel Aviv and has allowed Israeli diplomats to be stationed at a travel agency in the country to provide consular support to their citizens. Aware of local opinion, he insisted that the measures were entirely temporary and not steps toward a normalization agreement of the kind that several other Arab countries have signed in recent years.
Although Israel and Palestine did not participate in the tournament, the latter featured prominently in the first World Cup tournament in the Middle East. Ahead of the opening match on Sunday, a battalion of Qatari men marched to Al Bayt Stadium chanting “Everyone is welcome” and carrying a large Palestinian flag with them. “We take care of the people in Palestine, and all Muslims and Arab countries raise Palestinian flags because we support them,” the flag-bearer told the Guardian.
Fans from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Algeria also carried Palestinian flags prominently at matches and wore them as a scarf around their necks. Randa Ahmar, a young Palestinian woman, stood Thursday in Doha’s bustling Souq Waqif, holding the Palestinian flag above the international crowd. “It’s our country, we’ll carry our flag everywhere,” she said as passers-by chanted messages of support.
Fifa announced its agreement with Qatar to allow the Israelis to travel to Doha by claiming that the deal also allowed the Palestinians to make the trip from Tel Aviv, but nearly a week into the tournament it was not clear how many managed to overcome the extensive Israeli security checks required to make the trip. Some of those who reached Qatar came via Jordan or Egypt.
As of the start of the tournament, approximately 4,000 Israelis and 8,000 Palestinian fans had received entry visas to Qatar, although Israel’s foreign minister said it was expected that 20,000 Israelis would eventually end up attending.
A kosher kitchen was established near Doha Airport to provide Israeli fans with a gathering place and food that complies with religious requirements.
Dobi Nevo, an Israeli national, said as he prepared to arrive in Doha at the weekend that he had been watching reports of Palestinian activity at the tournament with some concern. “I hope the Qataris will welcome and that everything will be fine,” he said. “I really hope to meet people from all over the world especially from Arab countries – if they want to make friends. I just want to have fun.” [the football]There are no conflicts at all.”
Another Israeli man, who gave only his first name as Bahaa, said that the organization of the tournament and the atmosphere in the country were excellent, but there was one drawback: “The majority of the masses here do not accept the presence of Israelis.”
Others said they were finding the environment welcoming, but they took precautions. Omar Laufer said, “We are not afraid of being here in Qatar as Israelis, they are very good-natured and we don’t feel the politics between the two countries.” “We sometimes say we are from Cyprus – but only to people from Arab countries.”
As the viral videos have shown, it is the Israeli media that has borne the brunt of the continued hatred with which the Arab population views their country, even as many of their governments have now signed agreements recognizing Israeli sovereignty, begun building business relationships and bringing their security cooperation into the open.
Israeli Channel 13 correspondent Tal Schurer told The Associated Press that while his interactions with Qatari officials were pleasant, he was pushed and insulted by Palestinians and other Arab fans during his live broadcast from the city.
When a cell phone salesman noticed his friend’s location in Hebrew, Schurer said the man exploded with anger, shouting at the Israeli to get out of the country.
“I was very excited to enter on an Israeli passport, and I thought it would be a positive thing,” he said. “It’s sad, it’s unpleasant. People were swearing at us and threatening us.”
Aware of the sensitivities of the tournament, which will attract thousands of entrants from hostile countries such as Iran, where, unlike in previous tournaments, all of the estimated 1.2 million foreign fans will live in one city, Israeli diplomats said they have produced videos asking their nationals to keep a low profile.
“Belittle your Israeli presence and Israeli identity for the sake of your own security,” Lior Hayat, an Israeli diplomat, said, addressing fans.