Middle Israel: If Qatar really wants to help

To truly have an impact in Gaza, the emirate should build a soccer stadium in the Strip, and move there some of the World Cup, whose hosting it has won unfairly.

May 11, 2019 21:06
PALESTINIANS PLAY soccer at a tent city in the southern Gaza Strip last year.

PALESTINIANS PLAY soccer at a tent city in the southern Gaza Strip last year. . (photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS)

It’s the scandal of the century. Qatar, an athletically anecdotal city-state of hardly 350,000 citizens, was made host of the world’s grandest sporting event, soccer’s World Cup, defeating sporting powerhouses such as Australia and Japan.

To make the choice altogether absurd, Qatar is also among the world’s hottest spots, with summertime temperatures averaging 38°C and frequently approaching 50°C, which is why the event will be held in the winter, and thus disrupt activity in soccer leagues throughout the world.

That soccer’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football, made this choice dishonestly is obvious, an impression enhanced by Switzerland’s arrests in 2015 of 14 FIFA officials for assorted bribery allegations.

Yes, Qatar’s easy money and FIFA’s unchecked power made a natural match, but it would have been someone else’s problem, had this easy money not emerged between the Gaza Strip and the Jewish state.

QATAR AND Gaza are seemingly perfect opposites.

Qatar is sparsely settled, Gaza is more crowded than Calcutta; Gaza is a foreigner’s dead end, Qatar is some 80% foreign; Qatar’s per capita product, $130,000, is the world’s highest, about 50 times the per capita product in Gaza’s slums.

Even so, Qatar and Gaza are flip sides of the same malaise: one is an engine of Arab money’s misuse, the other its result.

Arab money is the postwar era’s biggest economic tragedy. Though numbering throughout this era hardly one-tenth of mankind yet owning more than one-third of the globe’s known oil and gas reserves, the Arab world remained mostly poor, undereducated and underdeveloped.

Not only did Arab petrodollars not go where they should have gone – to the Arab masses – about one-third of the Arab nation’s riches were wasted on arms, an addiction reflected by four Arab states’ appearance in the list of the world’s 10 leading per capita defense spenders.

Saudi Arabia, which tops this list, is also the world’s third-largest spender in absolute terms, with $67 billion, more than Russia and India, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

This intra-Arab problem seemed immaterial in early winter 2010, when FIFA chose Qatar as World Cup 2022’s host. It was December 2, a mere 15 days before Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze, and sparked the chain reaction of the so-called Arab Spring.

Had FIFA held its vote just a little later, even that cynical forum might have understood that it is on the wrong side of history, the way it was in 1978, when it held the World Cup in Argentina in the very days when its junta was throwing dissidents from helicopters, drugged and cuffed, into the ocean.

The Arab World Cup will similarly be held by the representatives of Arab political decay – those who can do everything, but in reality do nothing, to bring hope to the Arab world.

The estimated $10b. Qatar is spending on the tournament’s stadiums is money down the Arab nation’s drain. The Cup’s glitzy facilities will never again draw the crowds the Cup will, and sooner rather than later will fall into disuse, much the way Greece’s did after the 2004 Olympics, only faster.

This is the money that a wellspring of Arab poverty such as Gaza needs, not the paltry several-dozen million dollars that a seemingly generous Qatar is throwing at wretched Gaza in a transparent quest to appear as the charitable uncle its cousins across the desert crave. That’s not what Gaza needs.

GAZA DOESN’T need charity; it needs investment, funds that will feed projects that will put this sorry place’s people to work and thus give them the jobs, income and dignity their own leaders never gave them.

Qatar and the rest of the Gulf’s states know this, but their concern for Gaza’s downtrodden is no larger than their concern for the millions of Syrian refugees they left outside their rich lands, letting them instead board the ramshackle boats on which they sailed to Europe’s unwelcoming shores.

What will happen to the World Cup remains to be seen; there is talk now of expanding it to Kuwait and Oman, so as to accommodate 48 instead of 32 teams. However, talk of altogether relocating the Cup has subsided. Time is short, and if no game-changing evidence concerning the bidding process emerges within a year or so, Qatar will retain its unfairly won prize.

And so the world, which in recent years has seen a socially fraying Arab world depose four of its presidents and ignite multiple civil wars, will now help the Arab haves further rob the Arab have-nots.

Qatar – a principality smaller than Connecticut with a population smaller than Lisbon’s; an oil field whose citizens have never really worked to become as wealthy as they are; a town that hires more than 1.5 million foreigners, mostly non-Arabs, to do almost anything that needs to get done; the most glaring symbol of the ongoing injustice that makes millions of Arabs fume – can still do something to offset the terrible social impression its World Cup is set to make: it can share the World Cup with Gaza.

Qatar should set aside $1b., build a state-of-the-art stadium in Gaza, and have it host some of the 2022 World Cup’s games.

Besides immediately creating thousands of jobs Gazans sorely need, and besides requiring the energetic overhaul Gaza needs and Qatar can easily deliver, it would grant Gaza new pride and hope, and give its rulers reason to think of something other than their obsession with Israel.

Indeed, a share in the World Cup could give Gaza what the Eurovision now gives Israel: an antiwar tranquilizer.

Moreover, such a contribution to Gaza could become so inspiring it might make some excuse Qatar’s contamination of international sports.


The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019), is an interpretation of the Jewish people’s political history.

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