Shortly after his side stunned Portugal in a 1-0 win on Saturday, midfielder Abdelhamid Sabiri walked around the pitch carrying two flags: one for his native Morocco and one for Palestine. That night he was going post a photo of him on Instagram with the Palestinian flag draped over it, and a one-word caption: “Freedom.”
Sabiri’s gesture was just the latest example of the Palestinian solidarity that has become a recurring theme at the 2022 World Cup. When the biggest football tournament there is takes place in Qatar, Arabs and Muslims will attend matches . And when Arabs and Muslims attend the matches, many of them will show their support for a free Palestine and an end to Israeli occupation.
However, this solidarity was not limited to these groups. Although Morocco was the most important supporter, as the Atlas Lions survived and qualified for the semi-finals, it is impossible to list all the cases. Fans from other countries joined us at different times: Tunisia, Qatarand Uruguay, to name a few. Football fans of all kinds have declined to be interviewed by Israeli media. Members of the media present at the World Cup noted that the palestinian flag is apparently everywhere in and around the stadiums, regardless of which teams are playing. And of course there were the absolute guys from England:
The man in the first video, with the cross of St. George painted on his face and a flag on his head sitting like a random keffiyeh as he bellows “Free Palestine” in Arabic, was the clearest example. surprising and funniest of this phenomenon. Martin Near spoke with the outlet Middle East Eye last week and insisted he was not an idiot referencing the Crusades. “Saint George himself was Palestinian,” he said. Near’s views on the occupation were influenced by his visit to the West Bank:
Near said he only knew 20-30 words of Arabic (two of which being Filisteen hora) and he told MEE that his visit to Palestine was “an eye-opening experience”.
Seeing firsthand the Israeli military occupation, the Israeli settlements and the fact that Palestinians are not allowed to drive on certain roads and enter certain parts of their territory, Near left the country with “a terrible feeling of injustice. I wondered why people weren’t doing anything, why nobody was outraged,” he said.
“A lot of times the media likes to portray football fans or anyone else in a certain way, and they just rely on those stereotypes,” Near said. “Some of us can have the position where we want our national team to win football, and at the same time we can call for a free Palestine, we can call for an end to injustice.”
It should be recognized that this type of relationship between football and Palestinian solidarity is not new. For years Scottish football club Celtic have tried to crack down on the fans who bring Palestinian flags to matches. In the 1920s, Palestinian immigrants in Chile founded a football club called Palestino, which was quite vocal throughout this World Cup. “In my heart, I am Palestinian” said the great Argentine footballer Diego Maradona when he met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2018.
The difference this time is the size of the stage. Prior to the tournament, FIFA told all participants to stay away from politics, and Qatari officials have been much stricter on public support for the LGBTQ community and Iranian people’s protests against their government, but solidarity with Palestine has been more or less allowed. In the same way that Qatar said it would allow the sale of alcohol in stadiums, then at the last minute changed his mind without any hindsight, the hosts of the event were able to dictate how they want to run the World Cup. The mention of Palestine is not verboten.
Territories have embraced and appreciated this support, returning the favor where possible. After Morocco beat Portugal this weekend, Palestinians in Ramallah celebrated as if they were the winners. Football fans in Nablus displayed both flagsjust like Sabiri. Children in a refugee camp applauded for the Atlas Lions. A crowd gathered at Damascus Gate to wave the Moroccan flag and chant. So The Israeli police broke in to disperse joy.
Personally, I found this phenomenon fascinating to observe. This is perhaps the only aspect of the World Cup that does not fill me with internal conflict. I have no illusions that Sabiri or the Moroccan national team or any English fan will single-handedly end the occupation, but this is the kind of solidarity that Palestinians have longed for decades to achieve. All of this contributes to the normalization of Palestinians as human beings who deserve human rights. The Moroccan government may have accepted the occupation better, but its people feel differently. This was illustrated in Chronicle of Ishaan Tharoor for the Washington Post Last week:
Previously, outside the stadium, I met Mona Allaoui, a resident of Rabat, the Moroccan capital, who wore a Palestinian keffiyeh over her Moroccan national team shirt. “I don’t care about politics,” she said, by which she meant the political normalization agreements, known as the Abraham Accords, signed between her country’s leaders and Israel in 2020.” I support the Palestinians because I am a human being and they are our brothers and sisters.
At the same time, you are reminded why Palestine is not free. On Monday, Israeli forces carried out a raid in the occupied West Bank and shot dead 16 years old Jana Zakarneh, who was standing on a rooftop, later said his death was an accident. The Israeli army admitted a “strong possibility” that a soldier shot and killed prominent Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh in May, but his defense minister called the US Justice Department’s investigation into the murder a “big mistake”. Every day there is a new violation of human rights; no matter how many flags at a football game.
Yet it is neither. That’s what I’ll remember. Sabiri carrying the Palestinian flag as if it were hers doesn’t make sense. Doing so during the World Cup presents a useful reminder for American fans and media: the American government continues to unconditionally support the Israeli occupation, both verbally and financially, but from a global perspective, they are in the minority. .