World Cup 2022'I love the little guy playing soccer against the greats'

‘Indescribable’: Ecstatic Israelis, Palestinians celebrate Morocco World Cup success

Soccer fans across Israel, West Bank and Gaza embrace Atlas Lions as their own; police accused of using excessive force to break up East Jerusalem celebrations; 1 arrest in south

  • Palestinians watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarterfinal game between Morocco and Portugal, in Nablus, in the West Bank, on December 10, 2022 (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
    Palestinians watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarterfinal game between Morocco and Portugal, in Nablus, in the West Bank, on December 10, 2022 (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
  • Palestinians celebrate Morocco's win over Portugal in the streets of the West Bank city of Hebron after the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Morocco and Portugal on December 10, 2022. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
    Palestinians celebrate Morocco's win over Portugal in the streets of the West Bank city of Hebron after the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Morocco and Portugal on December 10, 2022. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
  • Palestinians celebrate Morocco's win over Portugal in the streets of the West Bank city of Hebron after the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Morocco and Portugal on December 10, 2022. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
    Palestinians celebrate Morocco's win over Portugal in the streets of the West Bank city of Hebron after the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Morocco and Portugal on December 10, 2022. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
  • Palestinian football fans with faces painted in the colours of the national and Moroccan flags watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup round 16 soccer match between Portugal and Morocco in Gaza City, on December 10, 2022. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
    Palestinian football fans with faces painted in the colours of the national and Moroccan flags watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup round 16 soccer match between Portugal and Morocco in Gaza City, on December 10, 2022. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
  • Palestinians wave banners with Moroccan and Palestinian flags as they watch a live broadcast of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Morocco and Portugal played in Qatar, in the West Bank town of Nablus,  Dec. 10, 2022. Arabic on banner reads 'One people, one country'. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
    Palestinians wave banners with Moroccan and Palestinian flags as they watch a live broadcast of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Morocco and Portugal played in Qatar, in the West Bank town of Nablus, Dec. 10, 2022. Arabic on banner reads 'One people, one country'. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
  • Palestinians watch Morocco's win over Portugal in the streets of the West Bank city of Hebron after the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Morocco and Portugal on December 10, 2022. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
    Palestinians watch Morocco's win over Portugal in the streets of the West Bank city of Hebron after the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Morocco and Portugal on December 10, 2022. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
  • Israeli Arabs celebrate Morocco's opening goal as they watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup soccer match between Morocco and Portugal, at a coffee shop in Jaffa, December 10, 2022. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
    Israeli Arabs celebrate Morocco's opening goal as they watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup soccer match between Morocco and Portugal, at a coffee shop in Jaffa, December 10, 2022. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
  • Palestinan soccer fans lift Moroccan flags and cheer as they watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup round 16 soccer match between Portugal and Morocco in Gaza City, on December 10, 2022. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
    Palestinan soccer fans lift Moroccan flags and cheer as they watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup round 16 soccer match between Portugal and Morocco in Gaza City, on December 10, 2022. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
  • Palestinian football fans lift national and Moroccan flags as they celebrate Morocco's win of the Qatar 2022 World Cup round 16 soccer match against Portugal in Gaza City, on December 10, 2022. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
    Palestinian football fans lift national and Moroccan flags as they celebrate Morocco's win of the Qatar 2022 World Cup round 16 soccer match against Portugal in Gaza City, on December 10, 2022. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Celebrations were held across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza on Saturday evening as ecstatic soccer fans marked the Moroccan national team’s historic victory over Portugal at the World Cup quarterfinals.

Morocco beat the Portuguese squad 1-0 in Qatar, knocking mega-star Cristiano Ronaldo out of the tournament and making the Atlas Lions the first African and first Arab team to reach the World Cup semifinals, set to face tournament favorites France on Wednesday.

Jubilant soccer fans across the Middle East and Africa have adopted the team as their own, with many noting that the Moroccan side — which also beat Spain in the round of 16 — has proved victorious against teams from countries that historically had colonized the North African kingdom.

There were celebrations in Arab communities throughout Israel, with fireworks set off in the northern towns of Wadi Ara, Baqa al-Gharbiyye and Bu’eine Nujeidat.

Drivers ecstatically honked their horns in Umm al-Fahm, and candies were handed out in the streets of Tayibe to celebrate the Moroccan victory, the Walla news site reported.

However, there were reports of sporadic clashes in East Jerusalem between local residents and police who were accused of using excessive force to break up the celebrations.

“The police dispersed those celebrating and used violence,” an unnamed local resident told the Ynet news site. “We celebrated just like everywhere else, but unfortunately they wanted to deny us the joy brought by the Moroccan team.”

There was no comment from police on the matter.

Palestinians celebrate Morocco’s win over Portugal in the streets of the West Bank city of Hebron after the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Morocco and Portugal on December 10, 2022. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

In the southern town of Tel Sheva, a 17-year-old was arrested for throwing a rock at a police car during celebrations in the wake of the Moroccan win.

Morocco has deep cultural and religious ties with the Jewish state, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis come from Jewish families that fled the North African kingdom.

Those ties have been enhanced further in the wake of the Abraham Accords, which saw Rabat normalize its ties with Jerusalem in 2020.

“I’m happy, but it’s not because I have Moroccan roots but mainly because I support the underdog and Morocco played smartly, using the tools it had,” Rafi Nidam, CEO of the SC Ashdod soccer team, told the Walla news site. “I love the little guy playing soccer against the greats and I absolutely do not rule out them winning the World Cup. Their success should inspire Israeli soccer.”

“Obviously, it’s not the most encouraging to see them rushing to celebrate using the Palestinian flag, but I don’t know if that is directed against us,” Nidam said.

Palestinians celebrate Morocco’s win over Portugal in the streets of the West Bank city of Hebron after the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Morocco and Portugal on December 10, 2022. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Morocco’s victory in Qatar has also touched Palestinians, with the players and many of their supporters expressing solidarity on and off the field during the World Cup.

Palestinian flags were regularly featured in groups of Morocco’s supporters in Qatar and among fans celebrating in Europe.

Some members of the Moroccan team have themselves unfurled Palestinian flags on the pitch to celebrate wins.

In Gaza, Palestinians packed cafes and a sporting hall that was turned into a free World Cup viewing venue by Qatar, cheering and rejoicing at the victory.

Some held posters with Palestinian and Moroccan flags and a slogan that said: “One People, One Country.”

Palestinians wave banners with Moroccan and Palestinian flags as they watch a live broadcast of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Morocco and Portugal played in Qatar, in the West Bank town of Nablus, Dec. 10, 2022. Arabic on banner reads ‘One people, one country’. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

“It’s an indescribable feeling. I swear, it’s as if it’s Palestinians that were playing,” said Ibrahim al-Lilli, a Morocco supporter in Gaza.

Similar scenes were seen in the West Bank. Palestinians took to the streets, cars honking and people waving Palestinian and Moroccan flags.

In Nablus, a video posted on social media showed groups of Palestinians chanting “Morocco!” under the watchful eye of Israeli soldiers across the street.

In Ramallah’s Arafat Square, thousands danced and sweets were distributed when the game ended, “while car horns blared and fireworks and celebratory gunfire rattled through the night,” the Guardian reported.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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