The first Palestinian World Cup

Despite not qualifying for the tournament, the ubiquity of Palestinian flags and the rejection of Israeli reporters has put Palestine front and center in Qatar.

Maha Ighbaria (top) holding a Palestinian flag at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

Baker Zoubi reports in +972:

“The atmosphere in Qatar is something that happens once in a hundred years. It’s a dream that came true, an Arab dream. Palestinian flags are everywhere — in the stadiums, in the markets. Wherever you go, you will meet Qataris dressed in traditional garb with a Palestinian flag in their hand or draped over their neck. Even the South American fans are coming to take photos with us and say ‘Viva Palestine.’”

This is how Maha Ighbaria, a Palestinian political activist from the city of Umm al-Fahm who traveled to Qatar for the soccer World Cup festivities, described her experience. Her remarks reflect what Palestinians across Palestine and around the world, young and old, are calling the “Palestinian World Cup.”

Palestinians have been united in supporting the Arab national teams, including Saudi Arabia, which in recent years has not been popular among Palestinians. The achievements of Arab and Muslim teams — from Morocco to Saudi Arabia to Tunisia to Senegal — strengthened the feeling of unity. But more than that, it is clear that this World Cup has returned the Palestinian issue and people to the forefront of the Arab world, after years of decline and a general sense of isolation.

Everyone, of course, is celebrating the fact that Palestinian flags are being raised at stadiums by fans of the Arab national teams. But what has equally warmed the hearts of many Palestinians are the viral videos that have filled social media since the tournament began, showing people’s responses to Israeli journalists in Qatar. Fans from across the Arab world and beyond have raised the Palestinian flag or refused to be interviewed when they discovered the reporter was Israeli, reminding the Israeli media that they are unwelcome strangers in the Arab world — even after believing that the Abraham Accords would magically render their presence acceptable and legitimate in the region.

“There is no doubt that this World Cup is the Arab World Cup,” Knesset member Ahmad Tibi, chairman of the Ta’al party, and an avid soccer fan, told +972. “The respectable performances of the Arab national teams brought us pride. The presence of Palestine was strongly felt in every stadium, the flag of Palestine was waved everywhere. After [years] in which the feeling that the Palestinian issue was less of an issue among the Arabs, the [Arab] people made clear that this issue is the central one for the entire Arab nation.”

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