Palestinians say Arab support at World Cup proves their cause is not ‘buried’

Soccer tournament has showcased Arab solidarity, seen most prominently when victorious Moroccan players unfurled a Palestinian flag on the pitch

Morocco's players celebrate with a Palestinian flag at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain at the Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on December 6, 2022. (Glyn Kirk/AFP)
Morocco's players celebrate with a Palestinian flag at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain at the Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on December 6, 2022. (Glyn Kirk/AFP)

Morocco’s support for the Palestinians during the Atlas Lions’ historic World Cup run shows the cause has not been “buried,” Palestinian Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub said Wednesday.

Like several other Arab nations, Morocco has agreed to full diplomatic ties with Israel — but this has not stopped its players from making their loyalties clear regarding the decades-old conflict.

They unfurled a Palestinian flag on the pitch after their stunning December 6 upset victory against Spain, and also after beating Canada during the group stage.

Moroccan players have also made pro-Palestinian social media posts during the tournament.

Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and in East Jerusalem have — like much of the Middle East — embraced Morocco, the first Arab nation to reach a World Cup semifinal.

Ramallah sporting goods store owner Saeed al-Ramahi said enthusiasm for the Moroccan team seemed unquenchable, with all of their jerseys sold out.

“If I had 300,000 shirts, I would have sold them all in the last two days,” he told AFP.

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)

That is despite Morocco joining the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in establishing full diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020 under deals brokered by then-US president Donald Trump.

Rajoub, the Palestinian soccer official, said this proves the enduring support for the Palestinian cause, regardless of any decisions made by Arab leaders.

“The World Cup reveals the lie that the Palestinian cause has been buried by the recent normalization agreements,” said Rajoub, who is also the secretary general of Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement.

Palestinians condemned those normalization deals as “a stab in the back” and a betrayal of the decades-old Arab League position against recognizing Israel until it agrees to the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.

Head of the Palestinian Football Association Jibril Rajoub after his speech at the FIFA congress in Moscow, June 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Arab states did secure diplomatic gains through the agreements.

In Morocco’s case, that included the Trump administration recognizing Rabat’s sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, in defiance of the international community’s long-standing call for a referendum to decide its status.

Rajoub described the World Cup, including the Moroccan gestures and the widespread expressions of Palestinian solidarity across Qatar, as “a slap in the face to the idea of normalization.”

The leading Palestinian public polling group, in a study released Tuesday, argued that “the World Cup in Qatar helps restore Palestinian public trust in the Arab world after years of disappointment.”

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)

“The vast majority of the Palestinians say they have now regained much, or some, of the lost confidence in the Arab peoples in light of the solidarity with Palestine expressed by the fans during the football games,” said the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

Rajoub called Palestinians the “33rd team” to qualify for the tournament in Qatar.

Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for Gaza’s rulers, the Islamist terror group Hamas which is backed by Qatar, said the World Cup has affirmed the importance of the Palestinian cause “on the international scene.”

Israel is home to hundreds of thousands of Jews of Moroccan descent and some in the country have celebrated the side’s stunning performance ahead of its semifinal game against France on Wednesday.

But leading Israeli media outlets have conceded that, despite forecasts about a changed Middle East following the normalization deals, the World Cup has made clear where Arab sympathies lie.

“The Moroccan festivities at the World Cup have proven that the Arab world is far from normalization with Israel,” the Maariv newspaper said in a commentary on Sunday.

“As Israeli viewers, we will continue to watch until the final whistle, while witnessing the bitter truth that the Arab fans have put before our eyes,” it said.

The left-wing Haaretz newspaper agreed, asserting that “the real winner of the World Cup on social media is Palestine.”

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