Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

All Over the Middle East, Fans Watch FIFA on Israeli Network

Many football fans are having a difficult time watching the games

By: Shaleni McBain

Published: July 10th, 2014 in Sports » Local

With only a few days left of the World Cup tournament in Brazil, there are many fans who have been watching during a time of unprecedented violence and soaring tension in the Middle East. Some Arab football fans have been forced to watch matches in secret or even (gasp) on a station owned by Israel.

Since the first ball was kicked at the World Cup three weeks age, Sunni Muslim extremists have seized territory in Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic state. Lebanon has been hit with a spew of suicide bombings and Israel has launched Operation Protective Edge after massive rocket fire from Gaza, which was sparked after the murders of four teenagers.

Egypt has also been politically divided by those who support the ousted Muslim Brotherhood group, with many convicted of terrorism-related crimes — including three journalists for the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera network.

As the New York Post notes, Qatar’s media conglomerate own the broadcasting rights to the World Cup in the Middle East. Therefore they are charging viewers from $110 to $320 for a three-month subscription that includes all 64 World Cup matches. In reality the tournament should have been a joyous and hassle-free occasion for millions of football fans around the world.

Naturally, most fans in the Middle East cannot simply afford to pay for the satellite broadcasts of the World Cup, which were previously shown around the region on state free-to-air channels. Some Egyptian residents refuse to subscribe to Qatar’s channel for political reasons.

As the Post points out, one 21-year-old student Mohammed Mostafa said his family is boycotting Al Jazeera and, alternatively, watches an Israeli channel that has been broadcasting the World Cup for free. The Israeli channel has commentary in Hebrew — a foreign language to most Arabs.

“My parents refuse to give money to the Brotherhood,” Mostafa explained.

Raaouf Sobhy, a cafe owner in Cairo’s Heliopolis district, said choosing a channel to watch was a simple. “I hate Qatar more than Israel,” Sobhy said. “I don’t think Israel is harming us as much as Qatar.”

In south Lebanon, Israeli TV channels have been banned since 2000, but some football fans do not care.

In Ein Ibil, one man was watching the Israeli channel with commentary in Hebrew — a language he does not understand — and said he neither cares about the ban nor the country broadcasting it to him.

“I just want to watch the game,” he said on condition of anonymity for fear of harassment. “You don’t need subtitles to watch football.”

Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for the Arabic media in Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, posted on his Facebook page a dictionary of Hebrew soccer terminology translated into Arabic.

“Reactions were mixed, but a lot of people appreciated the gesture,” Gendelman said. “I do find it fascinating that millions of Arab viewers are now watching the World Cup on Israeli TV while learning soccer terminology in Hebrew.”

Hudaifa Srour, who lives in the West Bank village of Naalin and is watching his games in Hebrew, said most people don’t care what language the commentators are speaking.

“Our people are eager to escape the political problems, so even those who are not interested in sports watch the World Cup,” Srour said.

Makes sense. After all, sports and politics shouldn’t mix.

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