Watching the Saudis shock the great Argentines in the group stage and the Americans tie with the English before winning an extremely exhausting game against Iran has been highlights of this year’s World Cup. However, we don’t remember politics having much of a part in previous World Cups. This year’s tournament in Qatar is complicated by the country’s restrictions on LGBTQ+ rights and its exploitation of migrant labor.
The rights of the Palestinian people have also been the subject of a major issue throughout these games. Moroccan players waved a Palestinian flag on the pitch as a symbol of their victory celebration after eliminating Spain and advancing to the quarterfinals. At games, spectators have been spotted carrying and displaying “Free Palestine” signs.
During France’s game versus Tunisia, a fan made it past the security and went across the field while carrying a Palestinian flag. It was much to the delight of the crowd. This has been an incredible display of solidarity with the Palestinian people. This has highlighted the prominence of Palestinians in the international spotlight during the World Cup is huge.
The first ever World Cup was held in the Middle East. The red, white, black, and green flag was proudly displayed everywhere, from stadiums to markets to restaurants to the metro. Even though the occupied territories did not qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, videos of fans waving the Palestinian flag and refusing to speak to Israeli TV have been posted online in droves.
This level of support is especially remarkable given that just two years ago a number of Arab countries established diplomatic relations with Israel. Let’s take a look at a few pivotal moments throughout the tournament when support for the Palestinian cause was at its peak.
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Morocco vs Spain
All eyes were on Morocco as they celebrated their win against Spain in the round of 16. It was the Palestinian flag, however, that was hoisted first in triumph after the team’s victory. Abdel Razzaq Hamdallah, a striker from Moroccan team, raised the Palestinian flag to the applause of the audience. The Atlas Lions are making a statement as they revel in the limelight by standing as one unit.
Morocco vs Portugal
The elimination of Portugal by Morocco in the quarterfinals marked a new page in soccer’s long and storied history. When the excitement subsided, the team rushed out onto the field, gathered around the Palestinian flag, and gave each other bear hugs. Abdelhamid Sabiri, a midfielder for the Palestinian squad, posted an Instagram photo of himself with the Palestinian flag draped over his shoulders with the caption “freedom” after their triumph.
Tunisians remind the world about Nakba
Supporters in Tunisia used their team’s game against Australia to raise awareness of the Nakba. Nakba is an Arabic word that means “catastrophe.” It refers to the 1948 Palestinian upheaval caused by Israeli military operations to make way for the birth of the modern state of Israel. In order to make room for the creation of Israel, this evacuation was carried out.
The enormous banner reading “Free Palestine” was unfurled by the crowd at the 48-minute mark. Many spectators were seen carrying Palestinian flags and wearing keffiyeh. It has become a universal sign of support for the Palestinian people. At football matches, Tunisian and other Arab fans have been seen waving Palestinian flags and wearing Palestinian shawls as a show of solidarity with the team.
Taking a shot at Israeli Journalists
As soon as they find out that the journalists are Israeli, Arab fans often make nasty gestures towards them. There have also been many reports of Arab supporters hoisting the Palestinian flag and shouting “Free Palestine” at TV reporters from behind.
US normalization plans with the UAE and Bahrain in 2020 and later with Sudan and Morocco are expected to stimulate further normalization. It will notably be with Arab heavyweight Saudi Arabia, according to Israeli officials. However, proponents have made it quite clear that they do not support mending ties with Israel and are staunch advocates of Palestinian rights.
England’s Palestine Freedom Movement Activist
English fan Martin Near went viral when he yelled “Free Palestine” on an Arabic news broadcast. Though he had the cross of St. George painted on his face and the flag of England wrapped around his head to make him seem like he was wearing a ghutra for the interview, yet Near had no idea that the video would go viral.
The ally’s bravery in speaking up for Palestinian rights was hailed as heroic by Palestinians and human rights activists throughout the world. “St. George himself is a Palestinian,” he told Middle East Eye, “a critical factor many miss out on.” In addition, the former marketing chief said that his visits to Palestine left him with a “terrible feeling of unfairness” upon his departure.
Every day during the World Cup, more and more Palestinians have shown up to show that the world cannot turn a blind eye to the plight of the Palestinian people. There is no end in sight to the Palestinian deaths, displacements, deportations, intimidations, and arrests while the World Cup continues.
The Israeli government has been taken over by a coalition of far-right parties, which has threatened to increase apartheid brutality against Palestinians. Palestinians hoped that the World Cup would bring attention to their BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement (BDS). While Ukraine and its supporters have succeeded in having the Russian national team and clubs banned from competition due to Russian aggression, Israel has so far been unsuccessful in having FIFA and UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) ban the Israeli national team and clubs from competition because of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
The Palestinians and their sympathizers, however, have been successful in organizing a grassroots-level boycott of FIFA’s most important event. While it remains to be seen if this amazing demonstration of solidarity will translate into tangible political action, there can be little question that this World Cup will be remembered as a triumph: The score is now Palestinians one, Israelis none.