One might believe that Palestine is one of the 32 nations whose teams competed in this World Cup based on the abundance of Palestinian flags, Palestinian armbands and bracelets, and “free Palestine” chants heard at stadiums, fan zones, on the streets, and on social media.
In fact, it has been referred to as the tournament’s “33rd country” by some Latin American media outlets. It reminds me of the stirring moments in the attempted revolutions from more than ten years ago, when Arabs also flew the Palestinian flag and chanted “free Palestine” alongside their demands for freedom and dignity.
An Arab chant of “Falastin, Falastin!” (Palestine) was heard in the crowd during the Tunisia-France match when a Tunisian fan carrying the Palestinian flag ran onto the field and performed a few flips in the air before being forcibly escorted out by security. As they travelled to their match against Cameroon, Brazil supporters were heard chanting “Free Palestine, Free Palestine” on the Doha metro.
In the streets of Doha, Palestinians have been giving out Palestinian flags, which fans from all over the world have happily accepted and waved. Despite the fact that Israel and Qatar do not have formal diplomatic relations, FIFA regulations allowed Israeli media representatives and citizens to attend the World Cup. On social media, dozens of popular videos showing Israelis attempting to interact with fans and completely failing have gone viral.
Israeli media complaints have been met with mockery, and some have pointed to the long list of Palestinian journalists Israel has harassed, detained, and killed, including Shireen Abu Akleh of Al Jazeera. While it is yet to be seen how this strong demonstration of solidarity will play out in political action, this World Cup will unquestionably go down in history as a decisive victory: Israel defeats Palestine 1-0