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Tunisian fans wave ‘Free Palestine’ banner at World Cup amid anti-Israel, anti-pride incidents

“We feel hated, surrounded by hostility and unwanted," says one Israeli at the World Cup

Fans unveil a banner with the message 'Free Palestine' at a match between Tunisia and Australia during the World Cup in Qatar, Nov. 26, 2022 (Photo: REUTERS/Marko Djurica)

Though Israelis have been allowed into Qatar for the World Cup, they haven't necessarily been welcomed.

Tunisian soccer fans raised a large “Free Palestine” banner at the World Cup during the game between Tunisia and Australia on Saturday. During a previous game between Tunisia and Denmark, Tunisian fans at the stadium waved flags for the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO is a Palestinian nationalist umbrella organization founded in 1964 and designated a terrorist organization by the United States since 1987. 

The International Federation of Association Football, or FIFA, stated previously that it does not want political messages at the World Cup, such as preventing 10 European national teams from wearing “OneLove” on rainbow-colored captain’s armbands. 

Some European soccer fans also encountered hostility for wearing pride symbols at the Qatar World Cup, CNN reported.  

A German soccer fan told the outlet that “out of nowhere, they took my friend quite aggressively on the arm and pushed him away from the crowd and told him to take it [the pride armband] off. … Then they took me with him. They said: ‘You’re going to take it off and throw it in the bin or we’ll call the police.’”

On one hand, Tunisia is perceived as one of the most modern and liberal states in the Arab world. On the other hand, the PLO had its headquarters in Tunisia before relocating to Ramallah and Gaza. Tunisia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations. 

Qatar and Israel also do not have diplomatic relations, however, a FIFA agreement made the way for Israeli soccer fans to receive special permission to enter the country in order to attend the World Cup. 

Nevertheless, several Israeli journalists in Qatar have encountered intense hostility from many Arab soccer fans, including citizens of nations that normalized relations with Israel in recent years. 

“We feel hated, surrounded by hostility and unwanted. A nice Qatari who asked us if we were from Israel said he would have liked to welcome us but we, in fact, were not welcome,” wrote Raz Shechnik and Oz Mualem, two journalists reporting from Qatar for the Israeli news site Ynet. 

“Get yourselves out of here, the sooner the better,” the Qatari citizen reportedly told the two Israelis. 

“Whenever we report, we are being followed at all times by Palestinians, Iranians, Qataris, Moroccans, Jordanians, Syrians, Egyptians and Lebanese – all giving us looks full of hate,” Shechnik and Mualem wrote. 

Egypt was the first Arab state to sign a peace agreement with Israel, in 1979; Jordan signed an official peace agreement with Israel in 1994; Morocco normalized its ties with the Jewish state in 2020. 

“Weirdly, the Saudi Arabian fans were different, and they greeted us with smiles,” the two Israeli journalists recalled. 

While officials hope that Saudi Arabia will join the Abraham Accords forged in 2020 under former U.S. President Donald Trump, there is still no official diplomatic relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel. 

“At first, we explained that we come in peace. We identified as Israelis. But by reaching out, we only end up entangled in arguments with Arabs, including abuse in a language we somewhat understand,” the reporters wrote. 

Ash Obel, a Times of Israel journalist also reporting from Qatar, had similar experiences, but also shared some positive encounters he had with Arab soccer fans. 

Saudi soccer fan Khalid expressed support for ties with Israel: “For me, relations with Israel are a good thing. In the end, we need peace around the world. We need a way of communication rather than distance and anger.”

Israeli authorities warned their citizens ahead of the World Cup to gloss over their Israeli identity in Qatar. 

Lior Haiat, head of the National Public Diplomacy Directorate at the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, articulated Jerusalem’s security concerns at the sporting event. 

“The Iranian team will be in the World Cup and we estimate that tens of thousands fans will follow it, and there will be other fans from Gulf countries that we don’t have diplomatic relationship with,” Haiat said. 

“Downplay your Israeli presence and Israeli identity for the sake of your personal security,” the senior Israeli official urged. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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