Arab fans confront Israeli reporters covering World Cup in Qatar

6. (Feature) Israel Qatar
A pitch invader with a Palestinian flag with an inscription on it runs during the Qatar 2022 World Cup match between Tunisia and France on November 30, 2022. (File photo: AFP)
When Qatar agreed to allow direct flights from Israel so football fans could attend the World Cup, some took it as another sign of warming ties between Israel and the Arab world.اضافة اعلان

Instead, Israeli journalists — the most visible symbols of their country at the tournament — have been reprimanded or ignored by locals and Arab visitors at times, a reminder that despite the 2020 diplomatic agreements with three Arab governments, many ordinary citizens in the region still oppose closer relations with Israel.

The tournament has offered a rare moment of Arab solidarity, with fans from different countries cheering on one another’s teams and wearing armbands in support of the Palestinian cause. On November 30, a grinning man wearing a Tunisia shirt interrupted a game by running onto the field with a Palestinian flag.

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

“We’re all human,” Shechnik said to one young man, after he declined an interview. “You’re not human,” the man shot back, adding: “There is nothing called Israel. It’s only Palestine, and you just took the land from them.”

Debating another fan dressed in the team T-shirt for Morocco — one of the three Arab countries that recently normalized relations with Israel — the journalist argued: “But you signed a peace agreement!”

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

“Arab people, even those who are citizens of countries that normalized relations with Israel, still have their fair share of grievances with Israel, and that is not going anywhere soon,” said Abdulaziz Alghashian, a Saudi researcher who studies his country’s policy toward Israel.

Many of the interactions were captured on camera, ranging from quiet refusals of interview requests to loud disruptions of Israeli broadcasts by people chanting pro-Palestinian slogans and waving Palestinian flags.

The Abraham Accords, as the diplomatic agreements in 2020 were called, did not bring a 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 — do not really accept Israel,” he said in a phone interview.

For the Arab public, polls suggest these government-led shifts 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 limited trade and diplomatic contacts over the years.

Instead, according to scholars from the region, the agreements reflect the economic and security interests of a handful of Arab rulers and the elites who support them.

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

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

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

A fluent Arabic speaker, Hemo said he had been depressed by the experience even though he understood the reaction.

“For them, this is a chance to raise their voice against Israel,” said Hemo. “They didn’t harm us, which is important to say.”

Other Israeli reporters said they felt more offended.

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

Some Palestinians said such Israeli reactions were ignorant of the daily challenges Palestinians face due to Israeli occupation and blockade.

The Israeli response to the backlash “only proves the Israelis’ blindness and lack of self-awareness of the injustices of the occupation,” Sheren Falah Saab, an Arab reporter at the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, wrote on social media.

Others accused Israelis of hypocrisy.

“Jewish journalists complain about the hostile treatment they receive in Qatar,” Mohammad Magadli, an Arab Israeli broadcaster, wrote on Twitter. “I suggest that you accompany an Arab journalist here in Israel, not abroad, for just one day.”

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