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The FIFA World Cup in Qatar demonstrates that Palestine is still the issue

November 28, 2022 at 12:06 pm

Palestinian children hold banner and wave flags on 20 November World Children’s Rights Day to support the 2022 FIFA World Cup held at Qatar, in Gaza City, Gaza on November 21, 2022. [Ali Jadallah – Anadolu Agency]

Everyone seems to be eating, breathing and sleeping football during the FIFA World Cup being held in Qatar. It dominates conversations in Arab countries. With everyone’s mind on football, support is forthcoming for the Arab teams taking part: Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco and, the hosts, Qatar. Players have prostrated to their Creator when goals have been scored and games won. Arabs across the Middle East rejoiced when Saudi Arabia beat tournament favourites Argentina, and were saddened with the defeat by Poland.

All of this illustrates in a significant way that the region is home to a single nation divided by colonialists drawing lines on maps. Brotherly relations have been in evidence, as has genuine emotion and support for each other. No one can dispute that this is the nation of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Social media has been filled with posts about Saudi Arabia’s victory, Tunisia’s draw and, latterly, Morocco’s famous win over Belgium, the team at — until now — number two in the world rankings. These teams not only represent their country, but also the whole region. All Arabs felt that they had won when Saudi Arabia won.

Likewise with the organisation of the tournament. Qatar has succeeded in bringing the world together for the FIFA World Cup held for the first time in an Arab Muslim country, but all Arabs have shared in the success. The compass of our Arab homeland has been reinstated in unity, with bonds that cannot break or be broken: religion, Arabism, language and contiguity from the Atlantic to the Gulf, with no natural borders. The borders are artificial as imposed by colonialism with barbed wire and fabricated “national” flags. Our common history underpins it all.

‘There’s no Israel, only Palestine’: Saudi fan tells Israel reporter he is not welcome at Qatar World Cup

There are no nations in the rest of the world which share a similar sense of togetherness and belonging. Not the British, French, Germans, Spanish, Russians, Chinese, Indians nor the Japanese have been able to forge a common affiliation for their people like the Arabs have.

In the middle of all of this, meanwhile, the strong presence of Palestine in Qatar has been made very clear; Israel and Israelis are being ignored. This was expressed in the Guardian under the headline “The World Cup tension the west is not seeing: Israelis told to keep low profile”.

Arabs snub Israel media at Qatar World Cup - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Arabs snub Israel media at Qatar World Cup – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

We can say with some degree of confidence that normalisation is failing at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where the Palestinian flag has been held up by fans alongside their own flags, and Israeli media have had requests for interviews rejected. The Israelis imagined that a presence in Qatar to cover the tournament would be an opportunity to meet Arab fans and thus push the normalisation agenda. The welcome that was wished for has not been forthcoming.

When some young Lebanese men were stopped by an Israeli reporter who told them he was from Israel, they replied, “It’s called Palestine, not Israel.” After a young Qatari man refused to give an interview, many saluted him for his patriotic, Arab and Islamic stance.

Israeli journalists have been frustrated by the refusal of Arab football fans to speak to them. They know that normalisation with some Arab and Muslim governments doesn’t reflect feelings and views on the street.

During a live broadcast, Tal Shorrer from Channel 13 faced a protest rejecting normalisation and supporting the Palestinian people. Images of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Al Jazeera journalist killed by Israel in cold blood, have been seen alongside the flag of Palestine. The distinctive Palestinian keffiyeh was on display in the stadium during a match attended by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad.

READ: Hamas hails Arab support for Palestine during FIFA World Cup

Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper published pictures on its cover page of fans holding up the Palestinian flag with the headline “The World Cup of hate”. It added that Doha’s streets are dangerous for Israelis who are surrounded by hostility and threatened at every corner. “Don’t expect anything from Qatar,” tweeted right-ring MK Amichai Chikli, “it is an enemy state.”

The normalisation agenda has clearly suffered a setback with this tournament; clearly, Palestine lives on in the hearts of the Arab people. It can never be removed, no matter how hard the Zionists try. This confirms what we already knew to be true: the Arab people reject normalisation and their moral and political compass is still pointed in the correct direction, regardless of what their governments think and do. The people are still certain that the real enemy is Israel, even as the Arab regimes rush to normalise with the occupation state. The FIFA World Cup in Qatar is showing that Palestine is still the issue. It may one day come to be known as the Palestine World Cup. It certainly deserves to be.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.