Dima Khatib reports in Aljazeera:
The FIFA World Cup in Qatar is still underway, but there is already one early winner: Palestine. It is scoring in the hearts and minds of fans from across the world.
Looking at the abundant number of Palestinian flags, seeing the Palestinian armbands and bracelets, and hearing the “free Palestine” chants at the stadiums, fan zones, in the streets and on social media, one may think that Palestine is among the 32 countries whose teams have participated in this World Cup. Indeed, some Latin American media outlets have branded it the “33rd country” at the tournament.
But the Palestinian national team is not playing, so why is Palestine so ubiquitously present?
It is because the World Cup is much more than a sporting event. It is a huge gathering of people from around the world coming together to share their passion for football and celebrate diversity and human solidarity.
This year’s edition of the World Cup is the first one ever to be held in an Arab country. Hence, it has been more accessible – geographically, logistically and culturally – to people from the region than any previous World Cup. It has also given people from the region space to gather in large numbers without the usual fear of repression.
As a result, Palestine has automatically taken centre stage, uniting Arabs in a joyful and celebratory atmosphere and reaffirming their commitment to the Palestinian cause.
In this rare Arab vox populi moment, supporting Palestine appears to be an expression of freedom, a symbol of resistance not only against the continuous occupation of Palestine but also against the neo-colonial order of repressive Arab regimes. It brings memories of powerful moments during the attempted revolutions from more than a decade ago when Arabs also flew the Palestinian flag and chanted “free Palestine” alongside their demands for freedom and dignity.
Indeed, the Palestinian flag is a sign of Arab political agency and has been a constant feature in the stands at football matches.