Lebanese Football Fans Watch World Cup in Hebrew

Sometimes, fanaticism can bring people closer... for a while at least.

Ari Soffer ,

World Cup and beers at my place - who's in?
World Cup and beers at my place - who's in?

In a region too often associated with violent extremism, another brand of fanaticism appears to be having the opposite effect... sort of.

A report by Lebanon's al Nahar reveals how soccer fans in the country - which is technically at war with Israel - are opting for Israeli channels to watch the World Cup, amid a row over broadcasting rights in Lebanon.

Qatari cable company Sama had bought exclusive rights to the international tournament, but many Lebanese were unable to pay the high fees. Facing a choice between their love of the beautiful game and their hatred of the "Zionist entity", many chose the former.

"Israeli commentators' voices in Hebrew can be heard everywhere in south Lebanon; in people's houses, balconies and courtyards because the country has failed to allocate money to enable them to watch the games," reports the Arabic-language paper, as translated by the BBC.

Even more interesting is the fact that a significant portion of those watching the World Cup in Hebrew live in the Hezbollah strongholds of southern Lebanon, where many working-class Lebanese were particularly effected by the prohibitive pricing.

The brief normalization may be coming to an abrupt end soon, however, as Lebanese state TV Tele Libnan has defied Sama's exclusive broadcasting rights by airing World Cup games for free, with the station's chairman Talal Makdessi declaring that the World Cup is "for the people".

And Israelis will be disappointed to know that despite the free service, their northern neighbors have not lost their mistrust of the "Little Satan". One viewer, for example, complained to Al Nahar that the Israeli commentators had been clearly biased against "Muslim Bosnia" in its game against Argentina.

Argentina won that match 2 - 1; it is as yet unclear if this was the result of a Zionist conspiracy, or just good football.