Last Saturday, Morocco’s national football team defeated Portugal in the FIFA World Cup, resulting in celebrations throughout the Arab World. One of those celebrations took place in Jerusalem, where Palestinians hoisting up the Moroccan flag were dispersed and attacked by Israeli occupying police forces.
Morocco has been the star of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, hosted by Qatar, claiming historic victories and going further in the tournament than any Arab team. Celebrated throughout the Arab world, these victories on the pitch are only part of the story, as the political messages sent by the players of Morocco’s national team and their supporters have inflicted a different and equally important historic defeat on their adversaries.
In 2020, the Moroccan monarchy based out of the nation’s capital, Rabat, signed a normalization deal with the Israeli regime. The normalization agreement clearly came under blackmail conditions, as the United States vowed to recognize the internationally disputed Western Sahara region as part of Morocco in return for normalizing ties with Tel Aviv. The UAE and the US both worked together to pressure Rabat in a number of ways to achieve this goal.
Since December of 2020, Rabat and Tel Aviv have continued to grow closer in the spheres of intelligence, economics, and military, to the great ire of Morocco’s Eastern neighbor Algeria. Part of the reason for Algiers cutting all ties with Rabat, was the normalization deal’s consequences, arousing fears of Israeli infiltration of Algeria.
The Israeli regime has used the normalization deals to argue that the Arab peoples are not in opposition to them and that with more cooperation with Arab regimes will come greater personal relations between Israeli citizens and the Arab public. Holding this belief, Israeli media agencies travelled to Doha, to cover the World Cup, seeking out Arabs to comment on the tournament. To their great surprise, this turned out to be a huge own goal for their normalization quest in the Arab world.
Almost every Arab they attempted to speak with rejected talking to an Israeli news outlet altogether. Videos first emerged of Israeli reporters facing rejection of interviews with Qatari citizens, who refused to speak with them after learning where they were from. This then turned into a compilation worthy saga of countless Arabs refusing to talk to Israeli media, or instead, holding up Palestinian flags and shouting “there is no Israel, only Palestine” and “free Palestine”.
Moroccans, Algerians, Yemenis, Saudis, Palestinians, Lebanese, Qataris, Tunisians, Iraqis, and other Arabs all refused to speak to Israeli media. Then, to their great shock, non-Arabs such as Japanese, Iranian, Brazilian, and even English fans either refused interviews or screamed “free Palestine” into their microphones before walking away. One man from Saudi Arabia even shouted down an Israeli reporter, telling him “you are not welcome here” and that there is only a Palestine and no Israel, ordering him to get out of the country. On other occasions, Israeli reporters were thrown out of taxis or had to lie about their identity to be driven.
At every single football fixture in the World Cup, Palestinian flags have been present, especially at the games where Arab teams played. Fans are consistently heard chanting “Falasteen! Falasteen!” from the crowds, with fans in some games choosing to chant in favor of Palestine on the 48th minute of each game, the minute was chosen due to it representing the year, 1948, when Palestine was ethnically cleansed of around 800,000 Palestinians. A man even ran onto the pitch with a Palestinian flag during a game played by the Tunisian team, whilst the crowd roared in support of Palestine as the pitch invaders performed flips before being escorted out of the stadium.
Israel has normalization agreements with the governments of Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain, Jordan, the UAE, and Egypt, but clearly these agreements do not represent the people of these countries. When Morocco beat the Spanish national team at the World Cup, the team posed for their post match photo, not with the Moroccan flag, but with a Palestinian one. After every major victory, Moroccan players have all hoisted up the Palestinian flag too, standing as a strong political statement that serves to show that the Moroccan people are against normalization and support the Palestinian cause.
Israeli politicians, such as the current minister of defense, Benny Gantz, have posted on Twitter to congratulate Morocco on its victories, in an embarrassing attempt to try and show some sort of solidarity. The reality is, however, this Moroccan team is firmly on the side of the Palestinians, as are the thousands of fans inside the stadiums that cover themselves in Palestinian flags, Palestinian scarfs, and hold up banners reading “free Palestine”.
The Arab people have been united around the victories of the Moroccan national team, and that is for a strong reason — they see themselves represented by the team they see playing. That team is firmly pro-Palestinian and has served as a slap in the face to the Israeli regime’s attempts at normalizing ties with the Arab world. Whilst unelected Arab dictators meet openly and sign agreements with Israel, the people won’t even dare talk to Israeli media, which says everything you need to know.
The Egyptian government, whose normalization deal with Israel went into effect in 1980, the first Arab regime to take such a step, has still never achieved normalization amongst its people with Israel. In 2012, a TV show even emerged, called ‘Alhokm Baad Almozawla’, which interviewed Arab celebrities — mostly Egyptian — pranking them by making them believe they are on an Israeli television channel. Every celebrity that is invited on loses their mind when they are told that they are on an Israeli show, some even attack the presenter or the producer physically, others break down into tears for being tricked into normalizing, or shout at the host for Israel’s human rights violations. The TV show was a hit in Egypt and across the Arab world. The show had over 95 episodes and gave a great insight into the way Arabs viewed Israel and why they refused normalization.
This World Cup has shown what happens when you allow Arabs from all over the region to congregate and have the free space to speak their minds about the issues closest to them. All have united in support of occupied Palestine, on a level that was not anticipated by anyone. It has clearly shown that the Arab people have not forgotten Palestine and that the Palestinian cause still holds tremendous weight in the region. This is perhaps why Israeli occupation forces decided to attack Palestinians in the Bab al-Amud (Damascus Gate) area of Jerusalem’s old city, when they celebrated Morocco’s victory over Portugal. Despite all the attempts to bring Moroccans over to the Israeli side, the Palestinian people are still the natural ally of the Moroccan people and their suffering is not forgotten.