The stands at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha may have been half empty when it was world Cup The quarter-final between Morocco and Portugal has begun, but the bars, cafes and streets of Ramallah were already packed.
In a restaurant in the city center, Palestinians from all walks of life gathered to watch The first Arab team to reach the last stages of the tournament. With fruit juice, beer and shisha, the atmosphere got even more rowdy as Portugal struggled. Morocco scored just before half time and the crowd erupted, men and women cheering.
Professional Arab commentators did not pretend to be objective. “God save this outcome!” A Palestinian radio announcer said. A beIN Sports journalist named one Morocco It could have been mistaken as a “war crime”.
After an already impressive run that saw the North African country reach the quarter-finals, the Atlas Lions reached new heights on Saturday by defeating another of Europe’s top teams.
In a tournament full of upset victories, Morocco just pulled off one of their biggest upsets to date. Their trip to the semi-finals is not only seen as a national victory, but a victory for the sake of it Africa And the whole Arab world, and in particular a blessing for the Palestinians. As after other matches, instead of taking pictures with their red flag with a green five-pointed star, the Atlas Lions raised the Palestinian flag, using their time on the world stage to highlight the Palestinian cause.
In Arafat Square in Ramallah, thousands of people danced or distributed sweets as the final whistle blew, while car horns blared and fireworks and gunshots rattled through the night. The scene was repeated in the towns and villages of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The whole Arab world is behind them: it’s very exciting. We are particularly proud of the way they represent Palestine. “We’re not in the World Cup, but it’s almost like us, there’s a lot of support,” said Saha Amir, 30, as she watched with her husband, child and group of friends.
The tournament has proven difficult to separate sport from politics, even though FIFA bans banners and flags that are “political, offensive and/or discriminatory in nature”.
support for Iranian protesters and LGBTQ+ rights, and there was no sign of activity drawing attention to their plight Western Sahara occupied by Morocco. But across Doha, Palestinian flags, banners, armbands and the black-and-white keffiyeh scarf made famous by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are everywhere. Fans from Qatar, Lebanon, Algeria, Iran and Saudi Arabia cheered for a team that hadn’t even qualified (Palestine is a FIFA member, although it remains stateless).
Morocco’s enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause is surprising in some ways: The country, along with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, signed a normalization agreement with Israel in 2020 under Trump-brokered deals known as Abraham Accords.
These statements ended decades-old taboos in Middle Eastern diplomacy and were seen as treachery by the Palestinians, as the stated position of the Arab League is that there can be no peace with Israel Until the Palestinian state is achieved. In the following two years, Israel celebrated its tentative new friendships in the region, and many Israeli tourists enjoyed new trips to Dubai.
But what has become clear to the Israeli establishment and public alike this World Cup is that while the kings and sheikhs of the region may have decided to break bread with Israel — to boost their economies, buy military equipment and better fight their common foe, Iran — for most of the Arab world the struggle remains. The Palestinian is important.
“Palestine’s presence was strongly felt in every stadium, and the flag of Palestine was flying everywhere,” said Ahmad Tibi, an Israeli Arab Knesset member and ardent football fan. +972 magazine. After years in which the feeling that the Palestinian issue was less important among the Arabs, it was [Arab] People made it clear that this issue is the central issue of the entire Arab nation.
Qatar itself does not have official relations with Israel, but it did allow the first ever direct flight between Tel Aviv and Doha to bring both Israeli and Palestinian fans to the country for the duration of the tournament.
The Israelis who traveled to this small Gulf state, whether as spectators or as reporters, were not greeted with open arms. In daily first person essay Yedioth Ahronoth About their time in Doha, Israeli sports journalists Raz Cechnik and Oz Muallem said the experience was “sobering”.
I have always been a liberal and open-minded centrist, with an all-encompassing desire for peace. I always thought the problem was with governments, with rulers – our rulers too. But in Qatar, I realized how much hatred the average person in the street feels,” Chesnik wrote. The couple eventually began identifying themselves as Ecuadorians to avoid heated confrontations with Arab supporters.
“We weren’t expecting to be greeted with such a warm embrace,” the couple wrote. “We just expected to be treated like journalists covering a sports competition.”
Doha’s strong pro-Palestinian narrative also attracted admirers from the rest of the world.
During a live broadcast, the Israeli Public Radio reporter Kahn communicated with a group of young English fans after their victory over Senegal. “Are you coming home?” Asked.
One of them replied: “Of course it is.” Then he grabbed the microphone and added, “But most importantly – Free Palestine!”
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