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Waving the Palestinian Flag, Celebrating the World Cup’s Unofficial Team

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AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Within the tumult, in those minutes of unrestrained joy after Morocco became the primary Arab team to achieve the quarterfinals of soccer’s World Cup, the players took a moment to come back together after their famous victory and huddle for a photograph to capture the moment. Together on the turf where that they had labored for greater than two hours to outlast Spain, cheering and smiling and with the throng of red-clad Moroccan fans roaring behind them, the players and their coaches pressed together and waited as a flag was unfurled.

It wasn’t Morocco’s flag.

There in the midst of the team photo, stretched out so it may very well be displayed in all its glory, was the Palestinian banner. Morocco, one of the best Arab team at the primary Arab World Cup, had set off celebrations across North Africa and beyond with its win. Now, in its moment of triumph, because the World Cup’s 32 teams were whittled to a final eight, it stopped to attract attention to a spot, and a cause, that unites many Arab fans and residents in sympathy.

“Palestine is the thirty third country within the World Cup,” said Abdullah Mansouri, a Moroccan fan attempting to make himself heard above the horns and drums that accompanied his country’s win. “Palestine is our cause, our struggle within the Arab world, in all of the Arab world.”

Certainly one of the features of the primary World Cup to be played within the Muslim world has been the ever-present presence of the red, white, green and black colours of a team that may be a member of FIFA but not a full member of the United Nations. The tournament has offered a rare moment of Arab solidarity, with fans from different countries cheering on each other’s teams — and expressing support for the Palestinian cause — at the same time as some Arab governments, including Morocco’s, have recently normalized relations with Israel.

That sort of normalization shouldn’t be mirrored on the Arab street, because it is thought, revealing a disconnect with the Arab leadership, and a way that the Palestinian cause still resonates widely with people across the Arab world and the Arab diaspora.

On the bottom and within the stadiums in Qatar, for instance, Palestinian flags, Palestinian armbands and even black-and-white headdresses, or kaffiyehs, featuring the Palestinian flag have all been on display throughout the monthlong tournament. And because the other Arab and Muslim nations that had qualified have left the tournament, Morocco, the last one still playing, has turn out to be the standard-bearer for the Palestinian cause.

A Transient Guide to the 2022 World Cup

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What’s the World Cup? The quadrennial event pits one of the best national soccer teams against one another for the title of world champion. Here’s a primer to the 2022 men’s tournament:

Where is it being held? This yr’s host is Qatar, which in 2010 beat the USA and Japan to win the suitable to carry the tournament. Whether that was an honest competition stays in dispute.

When is it? The tournament opened on Nov. 20, when Qatar played Ecuador. Over the 2 weeks that follow, 4 games shall be played on most days. The tournament ends with the ultimate on Dec. 18.

Is a winter World Cup normal? No. The World Cup normally takes place in July. But in 2015, FIFA concluded that the summer temperatures in Qatar may need unpleasant consequences and agreed to maneuver the tournament to the relatively bearable months of November and December.

What number of teams are competing? Thirty-two. Qatar qualified routinely because the host, and after years of matches, the opposite 31 teams earned the suitable to come back and play. Meet the teams here.

How does the tournament work? The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of 4. Within the opening stage, each team plays all the opposite teams in its group once. The highest two finishers in each group advance to the round of 16. After that, the World Cup is a straight knockout tournament.

How can I watch the World Cup within the U.S.? The tournament shall be broadcast on Fox and FS1 in English, and on Telemundo in Spanish. You’ll be able to livestream it on Peacock, or on streaming services that carry Fox and FS1. Here’s easy methods to watch every match.

When will the games happen? Qatar is three hours ahead of London, eight hours ahead of Recent York and 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Which means there shall be predawn kickoffs on the East Coast of the USA for some games, and midafternoon starts for 10 p.m. games in Qatar.

Got more questions? We’ve got more answers here.

“Palestine is our second country, is our topic, is our identity — like humanity, like Muslim people,” said one fan, Aicha Hajjaj, as she headed out of Education City Stadium along with her husband, Mohammed Bouhride, who had a Palestinian flag draped over his Morocco team jersey. “They’re suffering.”

Bouhride then turned to his young daughter and asked her to call the capital of Palestine. She didn’t skip a beat. “Al Quds,” got here the reply, followed by a giant smile. Al Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem, town that each Palestinians and Israelis define as their true capital.

The outpouring of support in Qatar has been widely cheered within the West Bank, with many Palestinians sharing videos and pictures of the flag being displayed on social media, and expressing happiness that they were still being supported throughout the Arab world, even when some governments have forged diplomatic agreements with Israel.

“To see Palestinians cheering for Morocco and Moroccans cheering for Palestine is one of the crucial significant Arab popular rejections of normalization with Israel,” the Palestinian journalist and editor Ramzy Baroud told Days of Palestine. “This moment will live within the minds of several generations of Arabs perpetually.”

On Tuesday, hundreds of fans arrived at Morocco’s game dressed with similar emblems of support, something the Qatari hosts of the tournament — who’ve actively restricted political displays on other fronts — have done little to stop. Within the V.I.P. seats, and even the V.V.I.P seats, guests have paired their traditional crisp white thobes with armbands in small black-and-white checks, an approximation of the Palestinian kaffiyeh after Germany’s interior minister attended her country’s opening game wearing a rainbow-colored armband. Ever since, the sight of armbands featuring the Palestinian flag have multiplied.

Within the stands and on the sphere, the efforts have been far less discreet. At several games, including at Tuesday’s famous victory, flags with the words “Free Palestine” have been unfurled in several sections of the stadium, including several at Education City. Morocco’s players have carried the Palestinian flag onto the sphere after several matches, and their advancements to the knockout round led some fans to travel to Qatar from the occupied territories.

Abdullah Alzeer watched Morocco’s final game within the group stage at home in Ramallah, the executive hub of the occupied West Bank. As soon as Morocco’s victory over Canada confirmed it could play within the round of 16, he logged onto a ticket resale site, paid about $275 for a seat after which made his travel plans.

It was a circuitous journey. Alzeer said he first traveled — together with his brother and two friends — to Jordan before flying on to Doha. The reception has been extraordinary, he said; visitors from the occupied territories have enjoyed something akin to celebrity status in and around Doha, contained in the stadiums and within the restaurants and narrow alleyways of the Souq Waqif, the market that has been a magnet for celebrations in the course of the World Cup. Night after night, Tunisians, Moroccans, Saudis, Qataris and even groups of Algerians — whose team didn’t qualify for this yr’s World Cup — have danced and chanted songs celebrating one other team that shouldn’t be here: Palestine.

During Tunisia’s group stage game with France, a protester even ran onto the sphere carrying a Palestinian flag, bringing a sudden pause to the sport but drawing much more attention to the Palestinian cause.

While the celebrations have largely been good-natured — apart from the Israeli journalists attempting to cover the tournament — and added one other layer of local texture to the Arab world’s first World Cup, they’ve contrasted with the treatment other supporters have often received when attempting to enter arenas with flags or banners promoting other causes. Fans with clothing featuring rainbows or other insignia celebrating the L.G.B.T.Q. community, or Iran’s prerevolutionary flag, have been ordered by security guards to either cover them up or give up them.

FIFA and native organizers have repeatedly ignored requests for comment about why fans carrying or wearing rainbow colours — which will not be officially barred from arenas — or messages against Iran’s government have faced significant issues entering stadiums, while those carrying Palestinian flags, which have led to fines for European soccer clubs up to now when used to taunt Israeli teams, haven’t.

Across the Middle East and North Africa and far of Europe, though, residents have clearly taken a side. After Morocco beat Spain, fans filled streets in London and Paris, and even within the Spanish capital, Madrid. In Morocco, fans lit flares in Rabat and Casablanca. And within the West Bank, the sport’s conclusion was met by honking horns, waving flags and even celebratory gunfire. The fans, and their flags, needs to be back out on Saturday, when Morocco faces Portugal within the quarterfinals.

Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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