Arab Fans Confront Israeli Reporters Covering World Cup in Qatar

When the Gulf emirate of Qatar agreed to allow direct flights from Israel so soccer fans could attend the World Cup, some took it as another sign of closer ties between Israel and the Arab world.

Instead, Israeli journalists, the most visible symbols of their country at the tournament, have been berated or ignored at times by local residents and Arab visitors, a reminder that despite 2020 diplomatic deals with three Arab governments , many common citizens in the region. they still oppose closer relations with Israel.

The tournament has offered a rare moment of Arab solidarity, with fans from different countries cheering on each other’s teams and wearing armbands in support of the Palestinian cause. On Wednesday, a smiling man in a Tunisian jersey interrupted a game running onto the field with a Palestinian flag.

At the same time, Arab fanatics have refused interviews with Israeli reporters and waded into discussions about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Raz Shechnik, a reporter for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot reporting from Qatar, aware on Twitter a series of interactions with Arab fans who refused to speak to him.

“We are all human,” Shechnik told a young man, after he declined an interview. “You are not human,” the man replied, adding, “There is nothing called Israel. It’s just Palestine, and you just took the land from them.”

Debating with another fan dressed in the jersey of the Moroccan team, one of the three Arab countries that recently normalized relations with Israel, the journalist argued: “But you signed a peace agreement!”

The fan yelled “Palestine, Palestine!” as he disappeared into the distance.

“Arabs, even those who are citizens of countries that have normalized relations with Israel, still have their fair share of grievances with Israel, and that will not go away anytime soon,” said Abdulaziz Alghashian, a Saudi researcher who studies his country’s policy toward Israel. .

Nearly 4,000 Israelis applied for access to the World Cup, according to Qatari authorities. But there has been little sign of the same kind of antipathy directed at the Israeli fans, who are less conspicuous than the journalists with their cameras and microphones.

Still, many of the interactions were captured on camera, from silent rejections of interview requests to heavy interruptions of Israeli broadcasts of people chanting pro-Palestinian slogans and waving Palestinian flags.

An Egyptian initially agreed to an interview and waited patiently while an Israeli reporter introduced him as a new friend. Then the Egyptian man leaned into the camera and saidLive on Israeli TV, “Long Live Palestine”.

The Abraham Accords, as the diplomatic deals were called in 2020, did not bring fundamental change, said Ohad Hemo, a veteran Israeli television reporter who experienced a backlash in Qatar.

“The people of the Middle East, not the regimes, don’t really accept Israel,” he said in a telephone interview, adding that this dynamic will continue until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.

The 2020 agreements allowed for the formation of new commercial relations and high-level military ties between Israel and the three main countries involved (Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates) and boosted Israeli tourism to Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, where the Israelis generally reported a warm welcome.

The agreements highlighted how shared fears of a nuclear Iran, as well as the opportunities created by greater economic and security ties between Israel and the Arab world, had become a more pressing priority for certain Arab leaders than an immediate resolution to the Israeli conflict. -Palestinian. .

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But for the Arab public, polls suggest that these government-led changes have not been accompanied by grassroots support for Israel, particularly in countries like Qatar, which has not fully normalized its relationship with Israel although it has had some business contacts and limited diplomats over the years.

Instead, according to academics in the region, the agreements reflect the economic and security interests of a handful of Arab rulers and the elites that support them.

“The World Cup serves as a space for spontaneous interactions with Israeli journalists, who provided the most honest answer regarding the centrality of the Palestinian cause,” said Maryam AlHajri, a Qatari sociologist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Ms. AlHajri, a member of an independent collective called QAYON, for Qatari Youth Opposed to Normalization, said governments that have normalized relations with Israel have suppressed dissent against those agreements.

“It goes without saying that there can never be peace without equitable justice.”

Israeli reporters who experienced the backlash said many of the hostile comments appeared to come from members of the Palestinian diaspora, many of whom are descendants of those who fled or were driven from their homes during the wars surrounding the creation of Israel.

Speaking fluent Arabic, Mr. Hemo said the experience had depressed him even though he understood the reaction.

“For them, this is an opportunity to speak out against Israel,” said Mr. Hemo, who has covered Palestinian affairs for nearly two decades. “They didn’t hurt us, which is important to say.”

Other Israeli reporters said they were more offended.

Having long supported a peace deal with the Palestinians, Shechnik said his experiences in Qatar led him to conclude that the Palestinians wanted to destroy Israel rather than make peace with it.

“I really changed my mind here in Qatar,” he said. “We are not human beings to them. They want to wipe us off the map.”

Some Palestinians said that such Israeli reactions made them feel ignorant of the daily challenges Palestinians face under the occupation and blockade.

The Israeli response to the backlash “only demonstrates the blindness and lack of awareness of Israelis about the injustices of the occupation,” said Sheren Falah Saab, an Arab reporter for the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz. wrote on social networks

Others accused the Israelis of hypocrisy.

“Jewish journalists complain about hostile treatment in Qatar,” Mohammad Magadli, an Israeli-Arab broadcaster, wrote On twitter. “I suggest you accompany an Arab journalist here in Israel, not abroad, just for one day.”

In Jerusalem last week, a crowd of Israelis chanted “Death to Arabs” and disrupted a broadcast by an Arabic-speaking media outlet at the site of a bomb attack that killed two Israelis and which Israeli security officials blamed on the Palestinian attackers.

Qatar, along with its Gulf neighbors Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait, have so far refrained from establishing formal diplomatic relations with Israel, conditional on the establishment of a Palestinian state.

When a deal was reached to temporarily allow flights from Israel last month, a Qatari official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues said the opening was simply to meet the accommodation requirements of FIFA, the governing body of the world soccer.

“The World Cup and the Israeli reports from Qatar illustrate how limited the Abraham Accords turned out to be, as they failed to address fundamental issues that concern many,” Alghashian said.

Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting.