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Palestinian flags fly at World Cup

DOHA: Palestinian flags are flying everywhere in Qatar but Zionist fans are staying low-key as the Zionist-Palestinian conflict makes its presence felt at the first World Cup on Arab soil. Despite moves by some Arab countries, not including Qatar, to normalize relations with the Zionist entity, the Palestinian cause is being embraced by many Arab fans and some officials.

Terse interactions between Arab supporters and Zionist media have gone viral, including footage shot by an AFP journalist of a Saudi fan berating a Zionist TV reporter that has been viewed more than 5.2 million times on Twitter. “There is only Palestine, there is no (Zionist entity)… you are not welcome here,” the fan shouts at Moav Vardi, a reporter for Zionist public broadcaster Kan.

The Arab fans flooding Qatar have been refusing to speak with Zionist media, while some yell “Long Live Palestine” in front of Zionist television cameras. “We find it very difficult to work here,” Vardi told AFP, adding that he understood the Arab anger. Many Qataris have put the Palestinian flag next to their own national emblem, hanging from the windows of their luxury cars. Some Qataris sitting in a stadium VIP section have worn armbands showing the Palestinian keffiyeh head-dress, while the Palestinian song “Ali Al-Keffiyeh” (Raise Your Keffiyeh) is regularly played in fan zones.

“Some foreigners do not know the Palestinian flag and ask us about it,” said Yahya Abu Hantash, a 33-year-old Palestinian living in Doha. “This is a golden opportunity to introduce our cause,” said Hantash, who wore a Qatar football shirt while holding a Palestinian flag. Qatar has no relations with the Zionist entity and remains a supporter of the decades-long Palestinian cause for statehood.

Doha supports Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, and provides vital financial aid to residents of the coastal enclave blockaded by the Zionist entity since 2007. Qatar criticized moves by other Arab nations – including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco – to normalize relations in 2020.

About 10,000 Zionists are expected in Qatar for the football tournament, according to diplomat Alon Levy who was in Doha to organize consular coverage. FIFA hailed a deal allowing Palestinians and Zionists to travel to the Gulf emirate on special charter flights from Tel Aviv operated by a Cypriot low-cost carrier as a platform “to improve relations across the Middle East”. Qatar insisted that Palestinians be allowed to travel with Zionists as a condition for allowing the direct flights, which will stop after the Dec 18 World Cup final.

Travel officials indicated there were no Palestinians on the first two direct flights, although some were expected on the third, flying on Tuesday. The Zionist entity has occupied the Palestinian territories of east Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War fought with Arab nations. Most Palestinians get to Qatar through Jordan or Egypt, as the Zionist severely restricts access to Tel Aviv airport, the official said.

About 250,000 Palestinians live in Qatar which has a population of around 2.9 million, most of them foreigners. Together with fans who number in the tens of thousands, at least, from other Arab countries including World Cup participants Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco, pro-Palestinian support is strong. Suhaib Al-Issa, a 16-year-old Jordanian, said flying the flag was a sign of “peaceful resistance to express our rejection of normalization with a country that occupies Palestine”. – AFP

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