The 2022 World Cup has been an occasion of many historic firsts. It began as the first tournament to be hosted in an Arab nation, the first to be held during the winter season and the first to feature an Arab and African team in the semi-finals.
Defying the odds to reach the last four of this year’s tournament, Morocco made an appearance in the quarter-finals following a stunning 1-0 victory over Portugal, knocking mega-star Cristiano Ronaldo out of the tournament.
Undoubtedly the best-performing Arab team at this World Cup, the Atlas Lions had set off celebrations across North Africa and beyond with its winning streak. Yet, the ear-splitting moments of triumph only reached louder when members of the Moroccan team stretched out the vibrant green, white, black and red flag of Palestine, in all its glory.
Backed by beating drums and pounding handclaps, the Morocco fans at Doha’s Al-Thumama Stadium also raised “Free Palestine” banners and had a favourite chorus to chant in a show of solidarity: “We sacrifice our souls and blood for Palestine.”
A clip of Moroccan striker Abdul Razzaq Hamdallah carrying the Palestinian flag and displaying it in the stadium in front of the fans went viral across social media platforms like wildfire, garnering hundreds of thousands of views.
The powerful statements of solidarity have proven to successfully raise awareness of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine as non Arab fans have also begun shouting “free Palestine” in Arabic during TV interviews.
One such case included an England football fan, Harry Hatton, 23, shouting “Free Palestine” during a live Israeli TV broadcast from the World Cup, shocking the journalist who was interviewing him after England’s 3-0 victory over Senegal.
During the live broadcast, the reporter asked the fans if football was indeed “coming home” in reference to the famous football anthem. “Of course, it is,” they replied before Harry yelled: “But more importantly, free Palestine.”
Another English fan, Martin Near, appeared on a TV interview with a St George’s cross drawn on his face and a Palestinian flag in his hand and bellowed “One: football, it’s coming home. And number two: Filisteen hora! [free Palestine!]”
Such bold displays of solidarity with the people of Palestine would not have been observed at such a wide scale had the Moroccan team not led the way with their courageous support on the football pitch.
Following Morocco’s victory against Portugal, midfielder Abdelhamid Sabiri posted a photo on Instagram of himself with the Palestinian flag tied around his shoulders accompanied by a one-word caption: “Freedom.”
He also later gave interviews to broadcasters at the game still wearing the flag.
At the region’s first World Cup, the most watched sports event around the globe, the sight of all the flags, arms bands and banners indeed comes at a significant time since Israel is on a mission to criminalise the Palestine flag.
Palestinian activists have reported being targeted when waving Palestinian flags in Jerusalem. They have also witnessed an increase in Israeli efforts to confiscate Palestinian flags and punish those who attempt to raise them.
Just last week Israeli occupation forces removed a Palestine flag from on top of a school building near Nablus in the occupied West Bank and replaced it with an Israeli flag.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the notorious pro-Israel campaign group UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) has protested against the waving of the Palestinian flag by the Moroccan football team at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
According to the Jewish Chronicle, UKLFI claims Morocco has breached Article 11.2 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code which states that anyone who uses “a sports event for demonstrations of a non-sporting nature” may be subject to disciplinary measures. Morocco was also accused of breaching several other disciplinary codes.
The move is just another extreme measure reflecting Israel’s increasing paranoia and the extent to which Israel will go to repress support for Palestinian national existence, as the flag alone, including sightings of it, threatens the very existence of the colonial-settler state of Israel.
The Moroccan players’ memorable displays of Palestinian solidarity is also symbolic, since this month also marks the second anniversary of the normalisation of relations between Israel and Morocco as part of the Abraham Accords. Morocco became the fourth Arab country to normalise ties with the occupation state of Israel after the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.
However, Moroccan bodies and parties have categorically rejected the normalisation of relations with Israel and held numerous protests against the move.
Former member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee, Dr Hanan Ashrawi, took to Twitter to highlight Palestine’s support for the Moroccan team and celebrate its reciprocation, writing that “No regime ‘normalisation’ with Israel can break the bond between our peoples.”
Therefore, despite Palestine not qualifying for the tournament and Morocco losing 2-0 to France in the World Cup semi-finals, it has been an occasion that coloured the stadium a sea of red, green, white and black, invoking powerful moments of global solidarity with the Palestinian cause.
In the end, at the World Cup 2022, Israel and the Arab leaders that are normalising their relations at the expense of Palestinian national and human rights, have received the message loud and clear: The occupying state will never succeed in eradicating Palestine with crimes of apartheid.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.