The conflict between Israel and Palestine has been a source of tension in the Middle East for decades. It also comes up a lot during the World Cup, when Israel and Palestine do not participate. For example, during the Tunisia matches, a Palestinian flag appeared in the stands with the text “Free Palestine” and the fans chanted “Free Palestine”.
Where does the Arab dislike of Israel and sympathy for Palestine come from? According to Middle East expert Erwin van Veen van Clingendael, the actions of the fans show their dissatisfaction with the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the fact that the rights of the Palestinians are violated.
Anger at the rapprochement
The leaders of two countries, the Emirates and Bahrain, agreed in 2020 to improve relations between Israel and Arab countries. The incidents in Qatar underscore that these agreements were made between elites and that ordinary citizens do not agree with them.
“Also, remember that the two countries that signed the so-called Abraham Accords are not regional superpowers and that Lebanon and Syria, among others, still have bad relations with Israel,” he said. Van Veen. Many citizens of Arab countries are angry about the rapprochement with Israel. “The leaders of two authoritarian Arab countries have reached an agreement with Israel, but revulsion prevails among ordinary people in the region.”
The citizens of these Arab countries see that the Israeli government oppresses and exploits the Palestinians and therefore do not want their governments to improve ties with Israel. “The Western attitude is often considered hypocritical: Western governments support Israel despite the human rights violations that are perpetrated there, while they generally talk about it,” says Erwin van Veen.
Palestine has long been able to count on the support of Qatar. The country has no official ties with Israel and supports Hamas, Van Veen said. This is also seen during the World Cup.
Qatar receives a lot of criticism from the international community around the World Cup. This mainly relates to human rights abuses in stadium construction and a lack of inclusiveness for the LGBTI community.
The failure of the Qatari authorities to act against pro-Palestinian statements seems to contrast with the banning of the OneLove group which, among others, Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk wanted to bring to the World Cup. For example, players would receive a yellow card if they put on this belt. The Dutch national team therefore gave it up. “We ended all political issues after inviting migrant workers to our training last week,” national coach Louis van Gaal said.
When Dutch Sports Minister Conny Helder visited the match between the Netherlands and Qatar, she also made a comparison between pro-Palestinian statements in Qatar and the OneLove bracelet. The Qatari justice minister sat next to her wearing a black and white wristband, as seen in the photo above. The group is a statement of support for the Palestinians. Helder called it a “strong response to the OneLove campaign” for diversity and inclusion, which was designed by the KNVB.
Nevertheless, according to Erwin van Veen, Arab support for the Palestinians is not a direct response to the OneLove campaign, and the presence of Israeli journalists at the World Cup is mainly a reason for Arab fans to express their displeasure with- towards Israel. The conflict between Israel and Palestine has been going on for decades and Qatar has long supported the Palestinian side. According to Van Veen, the expressions cannot therefore be directly compared with each other.
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