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‘No Israel, only Palestine’: Israeli journalists face the hatred of people at FIFA World Cup in Qatar

"I got sober here for the first time. I have always been centrist, liberal and open, with a desire for peace above all else. I always thought that the problem lies with governments. But in Qatar, I learned how much hatred is in the people on the street. How much they want to wipe us off the face of the earth", Raz stated.

The FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar has been surrounded by a lot of controversies over time. While the football fans are celebrating the sporting event, journalists from Israel are facing a set of challenges of their own.

On September 15, 2020, the United States mediated the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. In the aftermath, Sudan, Morocco, Oman and Jordan initiated attempts to ‘normalise’ relationships with Israel. Thanks to then-President of the United States, Donald Trump, there were at least talks of peace. However, the reality is far away from what the nations promised regarding maintaining peace in the Middle East.

The Israeli journalists faced hate while attempting to cover Qatar’s football fever. Those who called themselves ‘centrists’ got the taste of harsh reality. One such journalist was Raz Shechnik of Yediot Aharonot, who tweeted a thread explaining what he experienced. In the first tweet, he shared a video of approaching a man with a Palestinian flag. The football fan with the Palestinian flag bluntly refused to talk to him and said, “There is nothing called Israel, it is just Palestine.” The woman in the next frame wearing a hijab echoed similar sentiments.

Raz tried to present an argument that the governments were making the situation hateful in the region. However, the man with the flag refused to agree. The man continued, “You just took land from them. Later, a group of Morocco fans walked away from the frame when they learned that Raz was from Israel.

While walking away, one of the Moroccan fans said, “Israel, no! Palestinians.” Raz kept saying, “We have peace. You signed a peace agreement,” but to no avail. Raz received similar treatment from the Arab, Brazilian and Korean fans.

Raz wrote that he did not want to write about the hate he received after all. The journalists were not the story, certainly not at the biggest sporting event next to the Olympics. However, after spending ten days in Doha, he couldn’t keep the sentiments to himself.

Raz said he felt hostile and unwelcomed during the event. He mentioned how a Qatari told him to fly away as fast as possible. He further told Raz that he was “really not blessed”.

Comparing it with the past experience, he had at Euro Cup and World Cup, Raz said it was not fun covering FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. He added, “In the street, we are accompanied by Palestinians, Iranians, Qataris, Moroccans, Jordanians, Syrians, Egyptians, and Lebanese with hateful looks.”

Raz said though the Saudis welcomed them with smiles, they walked away when they were told he was from Israel. In some cases, Raz and his team faced abuses. He said his team had to identify themselves as journalists from Ecuador.

Speaking about the experience while covering the match against Brazil, he said it was particularly unpleasant. Palestinians would stand around with flags whenever his team tried to talk to the Brazilian fans or take pictures. They shouted at his team and harassed them.

He said, “I got sober here for the first time. I have always been centrist, liberal and open, with a desire for peace above all else. I always thought that the problem lies with governments. But in Qatar, I learned how much hatred is in the people on the street. How much they want to wipe us off the face of the earth. To what extent everything related to Israel arouses intense hatred in them.”

The majority of people do not feel synced with Abraham Accord

In July 2022, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy published a report explaining how the normalisation of relations between the Arab countries with Israel was far from reality. As per the report, only 25 per cent of the people in UAE and 20 per cent in Bahrain were positive about the agreement.

Source: Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Similarly, Saudi Arabia stood at 19 per cent, Egypt at 13 per cent, Jordan at 12 per cent and Kuwait at 14 per cent positive for the agreements. Interestingly, Palestinians expressed the most positive view about the accords, with 34 per cent population supporting it in Gaza, 25 per cent in the West Bank and 48 per cent in east Jerusalem. Though Qatar was not on the list of countries in the poll, in November 2020, a similar study said 40 per cent of Qataris supported the Accords. By November 2021, there was an even split based on business and sports ties with Israel.

The study, as well as the experiences faced by the journalists at the event, made it clear that the differences between the Arab countries and Israel are not going to fade away with a few lines drawn by the pen. It will take a lot more effort not only from the leaders of these countries but also from the world leaders to bring peace and harmony to the region.

OpIndia tried to contact Raz over the matter. We will update the story if we get a reply from him.

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