Though neither Israel nor Palestine are playing in the tournament, the latter has featured prominently in Qatar
One video shows an Egyptian football fan smiling serenely as an Israeli broadcaster introduces him live on air. Then he leans into the microphone with a message: “Viva Palestine.”
Another clip from the streets of Doha this week shows a group of Lebanese men walking away from a live interview with a reporter they have just learned is Israeli. One shouts over his shoulder: “There is no Israel. It’s Palestine.”
As hundreds of thousands of people from around the world have poured into Qatar this week for the World Cup, these are among the awkward encounters between Arab football fans and Israeli journalists that have gone viral on Middle Eastern social media, one of many sources of political friction at a tournament that has not yet shaken off its myriad controversies.
For the host country, staging the World Cup has involved delicate negotiations over the presence of LGBTQ+ fans, public displays of affection and the availability of beer and wine. Less prominent in the west, but no less fraught, has been the emirate’s accommodation of Israeli football fans and media, a concession to Fifa’s rules for hosting the multibillion-dollar tournament.
Qatar does not have official ties with Israel but has given special permission for direct flights from Tel Aviv and allowed Israeli diplomats to be stationed at a travel agency in the country to give their nationals consular support. Conscious of domestic opinion, however, it has insisted the measures are strictly temporary and not steps towards a normalisation agreement of the kind signed by several other Arab states in recent years.
Though neither Israel nor Palestine are playing in the tournament, the latter has featured prominently at the Middle East’s first World Cup. Before Sunday’s opening match, a phalanx of Qatari men marched into the Al Bayt Stadium chanting, “Everyone is welcome,” carrying with them a large Palestinian flag. “We are taking care of people in Palestine, and all Muslim people and Arab countries are holding up Palestinian flags because we’re for them,” the flag bearer told the Guardian.