Was Palestine the biggest winner at the World Cup?
Agencies | Jerusalem
The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com
This year’s FIFA World Cup welcomed fans from across the world, and the quadrennial event is ground zero for reporters.
Many football fans snubbed Israeli reporters, though, in a sign of Palestinian solidarity.
For weeks, fans flocked to Doha to be part of the spectacle. The 2022 World Cup held in Qatar was one for the ages.
Its message is one of unity for the love of the game, and for the first time, people in fan zones, stadiums, and even players expressed support for Palestine, flying the Palestinian flag and wheeling out pro-Palestinian slogans, chants and songs.
Although this year’s World Cup has been tremendous fun, with Saudi Arabia beating the great Argentina in the group stage and Morocco beating the Spanish and Portuguese before their emotionally draining loss a few days ago, it is the political views, on full display, that have become a significant talking point.
People in fan zones, stadiums, and even players expressed support for Palestine. (AFP)
While special direct flights brought fans from Tel Aviv to Doha for the tournament, many fans chose to give Israeli reporters the cold shoulder, as a number of journalists experienced and showcased live on television.
Almost two years ago, four Arab League member states signed the US-brokered Abraham Accords, through which Israel aims to forge formal ties with countries of the region. Qatar was not one of them.
Videos of fans, mostly Arabs, shunning Israeli media went viral on social platforms. A video was shared on Nov. 18 of a citizen from Qatar in Doha’s Souq Waqif refusing an interview after learning that the reporter worked for an Israeli TV channel.
Two days later, another video showed a group of Lebanese fans walking away from a journalist when he revealed he was from Israel. One of them said to the Channel 12 reporter: “There is no such thing as Israel. It is Palestine. Israel does not exist,” in an apparent rejection of normalization.
Israeli journalist Raz Shechnik, who was in Doha covering FIFA World Cup news, took to Twitter to express his frustration. He shared on Nov. 26 instances in which Arab fans walked away from him when they found out he represented Israel.
His video showed three women and a man carrying the Palestinian flag and telling the journalist: “There is nothing called Israel. It is just Palestine.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s incoming prime minister. (Reuters)
In the same video, Moroccan fans, who first posed, but, upon learning that Shechnik was from Israel, walked away with one of them said: “Israel, no. Palestine, yes.”
The reporter shouted: “But we have peace,” and “you signed the peace agreements,” about Morocco’s Abraham Accords in Dec. 2020.
The Twitter thread by Yedioth Ahronoth’s reporter also showed fans interrupting a live broadcast to chant and wave the Palestinian flag and more Qataris refusing to speak with him, shocked when they heard the channel was Israeli.
Israeli journalist Moav Vardi tweeted on Nov. 27 about being challenged the day before by a Saudi football fan, who told the Kan 11 TV correspondent he was “not welcome here (in Qatar)” and that “there is only Palestine; there is no Israel.”
Using the tournament’s global stage, the Palestinian flag — alongside pro-Palestinian sentiments — was omnipresent throughout the Qatar World Cup, attracting considerable attention.
A screenshot shows a Saudi supporter confronting Israeli reporter Moav Vardi in Doha over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The Palestinian flag took center stage seven times.
The Morocco national football team raised it after their World Cup victories, including their Dec. 6 win over Spain, when they made it to the quarterfinals despite the North African country’s government normalizing ties with Israel.
Moroccan fans in the stadium also held a “Free Palestine” banner during their team’s victory over Belgium in Group E on Nov. 27.
Similarly, Tunisian fans hoisted a banner reading “Free Palestine” during the Australia-Tunisia game on Nov. 26, while Qatar fans waved Palestine flags of different sizes at the Qatar-Netherlands match on Nov. 29.