This was particularly true after Morocco spectacularly upset Spain in a penalty shootout, advancing to the quarterfinals and becoming one of only four African teams left in contention for soccer’s top prize.
Celebrating their victory, Moroccan players proudly posed for photos with Palestine’s flag draped over their shoulders or held aloft by joyful fans.
The display of solidarity resonated far beyond North Africa and underscored how Palestinians have unexpectedly become one of the stars of this year’s FIFA World Cup tournament.
The Palestinian people have a long and complicated history with the state of Israel. For many, it is difficult to separate their anger at what they see as injustices committed by the Israeli government against Palestinians from any criticism of Judaism or Jews. However, it is important to make this distinction.
Criticism of the Israeli government or its policies does not equate to anti-Semitism. There are valid criticisms about how Israel conducts itself regarding the Palestinian people – just as critiques can be leveled at any other country in the world. Singling out Israel for unique condemnation and holding it up to a higher standard than other nations simply because of its Jewish identity is unjustified and amounts to bigotry.
The Israeli state is just 74 years old, making it younger than either Joe Biden or Donald Trump. It is currently ruled by a hard-right clique that has more in common with the emerging right-wing authoritarianism that is stalking the globe than it does with anything that even remotely resembles a democracy.
Despite the many issues that have arisen due to it, the World Cup has proven to be an effective platform for increasing awareness of the Palestinian people.
The Palestinian flag has long represented Arab political agency and resistance against repressive regimes. This was evident most recently at the 2022 World Cup, where support for Palestine appeared to express freedom and defiance against the status quo.
Although Arabs have often rallied around causes such as liberation from occupation or democratic reform, backing Palestine seems to hold a special resonance among people in the region.
In this rare moment of collective voice, supporting Palestinians is an act of courage that rejects external control while affirming identity and autonomy.
It also brings back powerful memories of past uprisings when Arabs flew Palestinian flags alongside their national banners and chanted “free Palestine” alongside calls for democracy and human rights.
At a number of the games, fans have been seen waving signs that read “Free Palestine,” such as when Tunisian supporters unfurled a big banner during their nation’s first-round match against Australia.
Before Morocco’s historic victory over Belgium, the country’s supporters sang, “To our beloved Palestine, the most beautiful of all countries.”
Players from Morocco celebrated their victory over Canada by waving the Palestinian flag on the field after the match.
A fan from France invaded the pitch as Tunisia was playing, carrying a banner of Palestine with them as they rushed across the field. Fans began chanting “Palestine!” as security guards escorted him off the field after they had apprehended him.
A supporter from Egypt who was watching the game in Israel live on television shouted, “Viva Palestine.”
Thus, while football may seem like just another sport to some, in Arab countries, it is seen as more than that – it is a vehicle for expressing nationalist sentiment and demonstrating solidarity with fellow compatriots across borders.
Although Israel and Qatar do not have any diplomatic ties, FIFA rules permit Israeli journalists and individuals to attend the World Cup. Organizers in Israel likely saw the competition as a golden opportunity to disprove Arabs’ decades-long policy of avoiding contact with the colonial state. However, the outcome was not as expected.
There has been a massive backlash against Israeli media from fans. Israelis attempting to engage in conversation with fans and completely bombing have been the subject of many viral videos. Fans from various countries, including the Lebanese, Saudis, Moroccans, Egyptians, Jordanians, Qataris, Yemenis, Tunisians, and Palestinians, have been filmed steadfastly refusing to interact.
“You are not welcome here,” a Saudi Arabia supporter tells an Israeli journalist in one video. “Even though this is Qatar, it is still our country. There is no Israel, only Palestine.”
Some Israeli journalists reportedly took to falsely claim citizenship from countries like Portugal, Germany, and Ecuador when things became too terrible. Yet others kept on trying.
“We have peace, huh? You signed peace, you signed on the peace agreement,” an Israeli journalist tried to persuade the Morocco fans to speak to him. People were chanting “Palestine, no Israel” as they left.
Since the beginning of the World Cup, Palestinian fans have made a name for themselves with their enthusiastic and spirited support. This has come as a surprise to many observers, who had assumed that Qatar 2022 – the tournament hosts – would be the only Arab country represented at this year’s World Cup.