The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is attached to the Qatar World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AFP) – It was uncharted territory for the Israeli journalist. Wandering through the rustic market in Doha before the start of the World Cup, he spotted a Qatari man in his traditional headscarf and flowing white robe and asked for an interview.

“any channel?” asked the Qatari. The journalist replied that he was from Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster.

Qatari surprised. “where?”

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

The exchange bounced around social media, reflecting the latest political flash point in the Arab world’s first World Cup — not to mention the Israeli and Palestinian national teams not participating in the tournament.

The debate was followed by Israelis and Palestinians flocking to Doha, revealing the extent and impact of a century-old violent conflict, including the unlimited Israeli occupation of lands on which the Palestinians want to establish their state in the future.

The Palestinians exchanged 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 took it as evidence that although Qatar allowed Israelis to travel directly to Doha and receive consular support for the first time in history, the conservative Islamic emirate has no intention of cozying up to Israel.

Israeli Channel 13 correspondent Tal Schurer said he was pushed, insulted and assaulted by Palestinians and other Arab fans during his live reporting from the tournament.

“You are killing children!” Some Arab fans screamed as they bumped into him during this week’s broadcast.

Meanwhile, Qatari media published some videos with the comment: “No to normalization.” Officials in Qatar, with their history of overt support for the Palestinians, insisted that the temporary opening to the Israelis was merely compliance with FIFA hosting requirements — not a move to normalize relations 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 would impede the arrangement.

Still, thousands of Israeli soccer fans are expected to descend on Doha for the World Cup, diplomats say, including some on 10 direct flights planned for 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 that’s okay,” said Eli Ajami, an aviation director who lives near Tel Aviv. “I don’t go around telling people but I think nobody cares if you’re 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. To limit potential problems, the State Department launched a campaign urging Israelis to back off.

“We want to avoid any friction with fans and other local authorities,” said Alon Lavi, one of the delegation members, citing legions of fans from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries either hostile or lukewarm toward Israel now flooding Qatar. “We want to remind (the Israelis) … you don’t need to poke your fingers in other people’s eyes.”

Israelis have made themselves at home amid the glittering skyscrapers of Doha. Qatar’s first kosher kitchen has been set up near the airport, supplying hotels and fan zones with classic Jewish challah bread, olive and hummus sandwiches. They plan to cook another food for the Jewish Shabbat, which begins on Friday at sunset, with all ingredients that comply with the laws of the kosher diet.

“We’ve had many, many questions and requests,” said Rabbi Mindy Chitrick, who oversees the effort.

Major channels in Israel were allowed to broadcast from Doha, providing Israeli viewers with uninterrupted coverage of the matches. But unlike other major foreign networks based in downtown Doha, The Israelis wander without an official studio.

While the interactions with the country officials were entirely enjoyable, Schurer said, the streets were a different story. He said that he advises Israeli fans to hide the Jewish kippah and give up the Stars of David so as not to stir up hostility. When a cell phone salesman noticed his friend’s location in Hebrew, he exploded with anger, yelling at the Israeli to get out of Doha.

“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.”

Palestinian fans from across the Arab world – including the descendants of those who fled or were forced from their homes in the 1948 war over the creation of the State of Israel – marched through the streets of Doha this week draped in Palestinian flags. Some also wore Palestinian badges.

A group of young Palestinians living in Doha chanted: “Free Palestine!” As he walks through the historic Souq Waqif in Doha on Sunday.

“We want everyone to know about the occupation and what people live in Palestine so that more people support us,” said Sarah Shadeed, 26, who participated in the rally.

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

“I’m a little upset,” she said, adding that she was sure their presence was not Qatar’s choice. Doha mediates between Israel and Hamas and sends money to pay the salaries of civil servants in the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas.

When FIFA announced the unprecedented direct flights from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv to Doha, Qatari authorities promised that the travel arrangements would also apply to Palestinians in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza, which have been under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade for 15 years. years, since Hamas seized power there.

But after five days of the tournament, it is not yet clear how officials will implement this hypothesis.

A senior Israeli diplomat, Lior Hayat, said all Palestinian fans seeking to exit Israel’s airport must obtain Israeli security approval to leave and return – an often cumbersome and unpredictable process. “It takes a while,” he admitted.

Imad Karakra, 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 the airport in Jordan, while Palestinians in Gaza left for Egypt via the Rafah border crossing in the Strip.

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

“I am here to remind you that in 2022, our land is still occupied,” said Muawiya Maher, a 31-year-old businessman from Hebron, a particularly tense West Bank city. He was dancing in a concert at the FIFA Fan Fest. , wearing the Palestinian flag in the form of a cloak. “I think it’s a miserable situation. But I’m also proud.”

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