Palestinians proud of Arab unity on show at Qatar World Cup

Those who have travelled to Doha tell of joy at support for their nation by football fans from across the region

Sami Mujahed, from Palestine, has flown in from the West Bank to support Arab teams during the World Cup in Doha. Nick Webster / The National
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Joyous Palestinian fans have told of how they feel "at one" with fellow Arabs as they cheer on the region's hopefuls at the Qatar World Cup.

It has been an arduous journey for many of Palestine's football lovers, who were eager to soak up the atmosphere of the Middle East's maiden World Cup.

Some flew in via Israel thanks to the first flights into Doha from Tel Aviv laid on specifically to serve football fans, with others travelling from the occupied territories, through Israel and on to international flights via Amman in Jordan.

Pre-tournament, Palestinians required special permission from Israeli authorities to fly from Ben Gurion Airport.

Those restrictions were relaxed for the World Cup, allowing football-mad Palestinians, such as Sami Mujahed, to fly into Doha for games.

“We live in the West Bank so had to cross from the Palestinian territory into Israel and then Jordan, before flying to Doha,” said Mr Mujahed, an engineer from the West Bank renting a villa with nine other friends in the Salwa Road area of Doha.

“We love all the Arab countries playing at the World Cup, so I wanted to come and support as many of them as possible.

“I picked up my tickets in June on Viagogo and I’ve been to Tunisia against Denmark, Morocco v Croatia and Brazil’s match with Serbia.”

The country's flag has been flown with pride at stadiums across Doha since the tournament kicked off as an Arab sporting success story could be on the cards.

The unifying power of football has unmistakably been on display, with Palestinians eager to throw their support behind Arab teams upsetting football's international elite.

Party atmosphere as Arab ambitions grow

Arab fans turned out in force at Doha’s Souq Waqif in the opening week to celebrate Saudi Arabia’s shock win over Argentina and Morocco’s triumph over Belgium — two standout results of this World Cup so far.

The area is a throbbing tourism hub with restaurants and shops, where many Arabic television stations have based themselves for live broadcasts during the tournament to capture the growing excitement of the Arab world.

“There was a big party after the Croatia match and then the Belgium game as it was a great result for Morocco,” said Mr Mujahed, who is spending 10 days in Doha.

“I was in St Petersburg for the World Cup in Russia when Morocco played Iran.

“Iran scored a last-minute winner so I had to come back for this tournament too, it was great drama.

“Qatar is a lot more expensive, but it has been great so far. We have each spent about $3,000.

“It was cheaper for us to rent a villa together and share the costs.”

With each Arab team having played two matches, qualification for the next round is still possible for Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia.

Fan zones have become focal points for much of the action in Dubai, with Palestinian fans cheering on Arab sides.

'We are one at heart'

Awafa Ahmad, 37, who works for a public relations agency in the Emirates, said it was heartwarming to see the Palestinian flag waved by fans from across the Arab world.

“Arab nations demonstrated how we are indeed one at heart,” she said. "For example, I’m not Saudi but was with all my heart with the Saudi team and again with the Moroccan team

Her sister, Asmaa Ahmad, 39, who works with the UAE Food and Agriculture Organisation, is not a football fan but was won over by videos posted on social media.

“My friends and I have been exchanging videos posted online showing Arab people waving the Palestinian flag, it’s a testament that we are one and Palestine is alive in the hearts and minds of all Arabs,” she said.

Saeed Al Tareefi, 74, was delighted to see Arab supporters united.

“It brought Palestine back to the heart and showed the solidarity of our nations — it proved how we love each and every Arab country,” he said.

Ahmed Ibrahim, a 35-year-old Egyptian engineer for a private company in Dubai, was touched by fans carrying the Palestinian flags in matches.

“I saw a big flag of Palestine during the match between Tunisia and Australia and many fans carrying them everywhere in Doha — Palestine is always in our hearts,” he said.

Manaf Hatim, 42, from Iraq, was another who was proud to see the colours of Palestine on show.

“I felt happy and proud to see Palestine's name in the mega-event despite not qualifying,” he said.

“I wish to see any team captain wearing an armband with the colours of the Palestinian flag.”

Updated: November 29, 2022, 10:51 AM