On Deciding Who’s Kicked Out: Palestine and World Cup ‘22

Tunisian fans waive a massive Palestinian flag in the FIFA World Cup match between Tunisia and Australia. (Photo: video grab)

By Benay Blend

Since the Russia/Ukraine war began in February 22, there has been ongoing debate over whether Russia’s invasion was unprovoked. There has also been conflict over use of the term “invasion” since NATO presumably plays a part.

Much was also written about the hypocrisy of supporting armed resistance by Ukrainians but not giving Palestine the same advocacy in its struggle against Israel’s occupation. Some supporters of Ukraine, for example, do not offer the same rights to Palestinian armed resistance.

In “The Violence Debate: Teaching the Oppressed How to Fight Oppression,” Dr. Ramzy Baroud relates the ways that progressive and Leftist media are replete with the comforting message: “Palestinians are being taught non-violence; Palestinians are responding positively to the teachings of non-violence.”

It should be left solely to Palestinians, he concludes, what form of resistance is appropriate at any given time. Given the violence directed toward them by the Israeli occupation, aggression that is often glossed over by advocates of nonviolence, it is an unfair burden placed on Palestinians to expect them never to use armed resistance in return.

Affirming that nonviolence is only one part of the solution, Omar Zahzah exposes what he calls  “a problematic, obsessive iteration of ‘nonviolence’” within the Palestinian solidarity movement, a fixation that he believes “dehumanizes Palestinians, normalizes Zionism,” and uses “racist and colonial frameworks,” thereby implying that the strategies of Palestinian resistance are “more troubling that the reality of Zionist settler-colonialism.”

Zahzah clearly explains that his problem is not with nonviolence, but with the ways that advocates for Palestine refuse to give those on the ground agency in their own resistance. Moreover, because “liberation struggles require a diversity of tactics,” this focus on only one puts obstacles in the way of victory.

In a taped interview, Gaza-based journalist Wafa Aludaini explained that Palestinians face Israeli aggression on a daily basis, but, despite international law to the contrary, the colonized are not given the right to defend themselves. To prove the impact of Israeli violence on the children, she posted a conversation with her son Malek about a picture he was drawing of nature that was overshadowed by Israeli planes. When asked if he liked the planes, he responded “No,” because they were always buzzing in his head.

Again, at the World Cup, Palestinians and their supporters are pointing out the hypocrisy of world football’s governing body, FIFA, banning Russia from the World Cup because of its actions regarding Ukraine. In “Sports and Politics Do Mix, as FIFA’s Hypocrisy Demonstrates,” Ramzy Baroud explains:

“Israel’s war on Palestinian sport is as old as the settler-colonial state itself. Sport is a critical aspect of popular Palestinian culture, and since culture itself is a target for the decades-old Israeli attack on Palestinian life in all of its manifestations, sport and athletes have been targeted purposely as well. Despite this very obvious fact, world football’s governing body, FIFA, in line with other international sports organisations, has done nothing to hold Israel accountable for its crimes against Palestinian sport.”

Ironically, shortly after the coup in Santiago, Chile, ousting democratically elected socialist leader Salvador Allende and replacing him with a brutal military dictatorship, the USSR team refused to travel to Chile for the 1974 World Cup.

Adding further insult, demonstrating that FIFA can overlook ruthless politics when expedient, the Estadio Nacional, which was also the site of the junta’s torture and murder of dissenters, now became the object of “sport washing” as the new dictator Augusto Pinochet understood the benefits of promoting a positive image of the country. The stadium was washed of the opposition’s blood in order to host the games.

Returning to the present, “there is much more that can be done,” contends Baroud, “aside from merely delineating the double standards or decrying the hypocrisy.”

Launched by Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, along with Roger Waters, Chris Hedges, Rabbi David Mivasair and others, the Kick Out Apartheid global campaign intends to put pressure on FIFA to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people, including their targeting of sports.

In one of its more egregious acts, Israeli air strikes during its 2014 attacks on Gaza murdered four Palestinian children playing football on the beach. Despite efforts by the Bakr family to hold Israel accountable for the murders, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal in 2022 to reopen an investigation of the tragedy. As of now, no one has been charged.

Clearly, Israel has violated the principles of FIFI, and indeed international law, beyond the crimes of apartheid, particularly as related to the rights of children. An important part of the campaign focuses on the defense of Palestinian children, including the 200 minors whose imprisonment prevents them from watching much less playing sports.  Indeed, all Palestinian children are denied the right of being kids, as evidenced by Aludaini’s child who cannot envision a world without Israeli planes.

The campaign also endorses anti-normalization efforts such as #BoycottPuma and similar actions in the sports world. It asks that viewers everywhere wear the Palestinian armband symbolizing resistance to the occupation.

Its common when a campaign does not bring about desired results, when change does not appear forthcoming as fast as we would like, to give up, to think that our actions have been a failure.

In the summer of 1962, the late historian Howard Zinn travelled to Albany, Georgia where mass demonstrations accompanied by mass arrests resulted in the chief of police still in control of the constitutional rights of citizens. Once again, he said, the federal government had not intervened.

“My optimism was shaken but still alive,” he recalled.

“To those people around me who said that Albany was a huge defeat, I replied that you could not measure victories and defeats only by tangible results in the desegregation of specific facilities, that a tremendous change had taken place in the thinking of Albany’s Negroes, that expectations had been raised which could not be stilled until the city was transformed.”

Even if there is no tangible sign of victory—Israel remains in the game, the occupation does not end tomorrow—there is no sign either of failure. People around the world have been politicized as they see the Palestinian flag raised by participants, armbands on many players indication solidarity with Palestine, and general support at the World Cup for the Palestinian cause.

“For Palestinians,” writes Ramzy Baroud, “sport – especially football – remains a powerful platform of cultural resistance.” Despite ongoing Israeli acts of aggression against all sports, including arrests, torture and killings of Palestinian players, Palestine’s “cultural warriors” have remained resilient in “their fight for dignity and their quest for glory.”

In the end, explains journalist Mohammed Matter, the World Cup has already named Palestine as its winner. “From all the matches I’ve already watched during Qatar 2022,” he concludes, “I think I know who is the world cup winner. ITS PALESTINE  Thanks to all who raised our flag”.

– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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