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Caption–Left: Gheith Najjar (white t-shirt) at Qatar 2022 World Cup. Right: A screen shot of an Israeli’s mobile captured as he was sharing Najjar’s image at Qatar 2022 World Cup

Marco Balich, the creative director of the opening ceremony of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, probably has no idea that “bridging distances” when it comes to Palestinians and Israelis is a euphemism for normalizing Israel’s apartheid and settler colonialism, its brutal subjugation and dispossession of Palestinians.

For Palestinians and their supporters, more than football is afoot at the games. The World Cup has presented a great opportunity to raise international awareness of the Palestinian struggle for liberation and return. Several campaigns have been launched on social media with that end in view, urging supporters (among other things) to wear clothing and ornaments that have become Palestinian iconic symbols of cultural heritage and resistance.

My brother, who attended one of the early games, wore a t-shirt emblazoned with “❤Palestine.” That gesture was meant not only for the row of Israelis sitting directly below him in the stands (my brother observed an Israeli sharing on his mobile a photo he took of my brother and his t-shirt), but also as a message for the world at large.

One incident posted as a reel on Instagram that was not orchestrated by any of the campaigns to boost the visibility of Palestine jumped at me, not only because it happened inadvertently, but also because of what it reveals about the Israeli psyche.

It involves a couple of Israeli broadcasters excitedly reporting during the aftermath of one of the World Cup games in Qatar. They got hold of an Egyptian bystander to interview, a young man who was unaware that he was being interviewed on an Israeli station until he heard the interviewer begin to speak in Hebrew. As the realization dawned on him that he was addressing an Israeli audience, he simply blurted out “Viva Palestine.” They cut him off but not before the young Egyptian managed to repeat “Viva Palestine” several times. At the end of this unanticipated on-air exchange, and in the spirit of a sports competition, the Israeli reporter said, “but we are stronger than you.”

And there you have it, the conquest mindset of a Zionist-Jewish-settler-colonial entity imposed by force on Palestinians in 1948 and now internationally recognized as the power militarily occupying the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip but only through lip service.

To the Israeli media, it’s all about might making it right. Enter Masar Badil on the playing field with a banner that says, “With the Palestinian Resistance: Support the Intifada!” As if to retort: OK we might be the underdog in your game of thrones but we will never give up our right to fight you with all we’ve got. It’s defense … defense … defense and resistance all the way. What’s more, we have justice on our side.

In a statement published 23 Nov 2022, Masar Badil “saluted the Palestinian resistance organizations and brigades in the Gaza Strip, the fighters and cells that shook the edifices of the enemy in occupied Jerusalem, and all of the strugglers in the camps, cities, and villages of the occupied West Bank and throughout occupied Palestine,” and confirmed “its clear and firm position of support for Palestinian resistance,

until return and liberation, embracing all of its currents and forces of the armed resistance confronting the Zionist enemy, and upholding the sacred right of our Palestinian people to defend their existence and national rights, urging unity in all areas and further initiatives and revolutionary actions, on the road to building a unified national front that enjoys the credibility and support of the people…. The correct national compass for any honourable Palestinian gun lies in defending the Palestinian people and their land, not in providing protection for Zionist colonizers.”

It’s a face-off between Masar Badil’s slogan “With the Palestinian resistance” and Zionist hasbara that dubs Palestinian resistance as “terror” and Israel’s aggression as “security.”

Hamas took up Masar Badil’s call and ran with it, issuing a series of posters in Arabic with Masar’s statements while also emphasizing, through the images used, its own legitimate armed resistance.

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Caption: “Hamas took up Masar Badil’s call”

Both Masar Badil and Hamas direct their messaging, first at the Palestinian public and second at Israel and its allies. The latter continue to orchestrate, unconditionally support and deepen Israel’s aggression against the Palestinian people. Another video clip (again filmed in a stadium) that is currently circulating on social media concisely captures through images and chants Palestinians’ bitter awareness of the international conspiracy against them.

In Arabic, there is a curse word that is as vehement to Arabic-speakers’ ears as is the curse word “motherfucker” to English-speakers’ ears. It translates as “damn your father,” the patriarch who carries the family name and steers the ship. In the video clip I mention above, we hear a group of people on the rafters chanting (and see words and flags scrolling across the screen): “Damn her father (Israeli flag) who begat her (British flag); Palestinian (the feminine noun with the flag); Free and Arab.”

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Caption: “يلعن ابوها” — “Damn her father

Another goal of the social media campaigns on behalf of Palestine at the World Cup in Qatar is to encourage sports commentators and media in Doha to talk about the Palestinian struggle during the World Cup. That is why the articulate statements of Qatar’s Deputy Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater of 29 May 2021 as posted on TikTok are also being recirculated now on social media. Here is an excerpt:

Interviewer: Do you think that it is now time where Western nations need to deal with Hamas?
Al Khater: Well, I think it is about time for the Western nations to stop the unconditional support, both moral and financial and in fact political to Israel. The issue once again, it’s not about Hamas. This reductionist approach of reducing the struggle of the Palestinian people since 1948 to only Hamas is very problematic. Hamas was only founded in 1984. There were decades of suffering before Hamas ever existed.
Interviewer: Calls from all over the world for an investigation of war crimes on both sides. The United States says any war crimes investigation will imperil the ceasefire. What do you think?
Al Khater: I don’t think this is accurate, Samantha. What the human rights commissioner had said was that the aggression from Israel could amount to war crimes. She didn’t say the same about the attacks from the side of Gaza. So, once again, we’re not talking about two sides. We’re talking about a nuclear state with one of the strongest armies globally and stateless people who have been suffering for decades. Samantha, (showing a collage of the faces of Palestinian children) those kids from the side of the Palestinians were killed… Those are not Hamas. And not only, by the way, the Palestinians. Do you remember Rachel Corrie, the American activist who was killed by the Israelis in 2003? They are killing journalists; they are killing activists [so as] not to say the truth. So, once again, it’s not a two side aggression. It’s basically an occupation and Israel is the last colonial power that we know off in our time and age.

The Jewish Israeli audience of the TV station I mentioned earlier in this piece is an audience that is steeped in Zionism. Bestselling Israeli author of Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, describes their reality and mindset on CNN, calling it “the three-class solution:”

The Israeli public believes in Israel as one country (between the river and the sea) with three classes living there: Jews, who have all the rights; some Arabs, who have some rights; and other Arabs, who have very little or no rights… And this is increasingly the situation on the ground. And this is increasingly also the aspiration of the mindset of even people in government and this is extremely worrying but this is what is happening.

Masar Badil’s solution is revolution not only against “class,” but also against Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state in Palestine. Palestinians are fully aware, as Harari might not be, that what is “worrying” about the situation is much more than “apartheid.” In the words of Susana Khalil, “Zionism is a Eurocentric fascist movement and today it is the engine of imperial inhumanity and is the very normalization of fascism. Zionism is an enemy of humanity that with its despotic supra-power allows it to mock and subjugate the world as the untouchable bearer of Peace.” Nevertheless, the world and its media continue to be oblivious to these truths and serve Palestinians up only with doublespeak.

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Caption — Quds News Network: “Thousands of fans from multiple nationalities wave Palestinian flags in Doha, Qatar, in support of the people of Palestine as #QatarWorldCup2022 kicks off.”

The Qatar World Cup’s at-times unfortunate imagery in the opening ceremony and its hackneyed rhetoric of “uniting the world,” “bringing us together” and “the beautiful game” leave this Palestinian cold. Nor do I buy The Telegraph’s assessment of the ceremony as a showcase of “a corrupt, money-obsessed organisation and a regime with a medieval approach to civil rights and workers’ safety” without also applying the deprecatory description to the British government and its sordid history in Palestine (not to mention many other parts of the world) and to Israel, the so-called “one and only democracy in the Middle East.”

Note: First published on Medium

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 Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank


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