What if the World Cup were in Palestine?

The World Cup prides itself in bringing the global community together, but what would that look like in Palestine, where the world has allowed impunity to go unchecked?
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A child holds a soccer ball under their arm, looking away from the camera, toward an empty street. An image of the Palestinian flag is overlayed in the middle of the image

Last month a single event captured audiences around the world. It’s almost as if the globe stops spinning for the World Cup; everyone was hyperfocused, admiring the greatness of this event and the experience of watching matches live in stadiums, praising Qatar for its incredible hospitality and accessibility, and ease of moving around in the country.

As I watched this spectacle unfold, I asked myself what a World Cup would look like in Palestine. How will it go?

Let’s start with building the stadiums. Companies would have to apply for permissions at every single step of the process. We would spend years just to obtain legal permission to start building the fields. Since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, settling on 78% of historical Palestinian lands, the remaining lands have been divided into three areas, A, B, and C. Area C—60% of the West Bank—is under full Israeli control, preventing Palestinians from building on or expanding villages and cities. 

As Palestinians, we would not be surprised if, after the completion of the construction of a stadium with all its equipment, the tanks and bulldozers of the occupation come and demolish the field, destroying years of tiring work and exploitation of human and natural resources, of which Palestine has little. We would not be surprised at all. We are used to waking up to the news of many families who lost their homes due to the occupation and its arbitrary measures.

What if a stadium was built on the lands of Masafer Yatta, South Hebron Hills, for example? Would the stadium be demolished and the workers displaced, just as the Israeli occupation has done to Palestinian families, forcibly expulsing over 1000 people from nine villages who now do not know where they will be next month?

Should we expect checkpoints at the entrance to the stadiums? By verifying people’s identity, Palestinian Muslims may be prevented from entering certain stadiums under the pretext that the Israeli military controls the area. As a Palestinian, I am currently aware that because of who I am, there are many restrictions and challenges during my walk in the H2 area of al Khalil/Hebron. I am also completely barred from entering Shudada Street, which is the most important street in the city. Will I also be prevented from attending some games because I hold a Palestinian ID?

I wonder how many players we need on the team? Will all the players—who have trained for years—be present on game day? Or will part of the team be inside Israeli occupation prisons, or will they have been killed and their bodies detained? This has already happened. Palestinian footballer, 23-year-old Ahmed Atef Al-Dragmeh, was murdered last December. Perhaps that is why we will never be able to qualify for the World Cup because we will never be able to maintain a full team.

I want to conjure up something else. How would you imagine the entry procedures for guests to visit the occupied Palestinian territories? How will things play out? First off, to enter the country, will Israel allow visitors to come to Palestine using their airport? Will entry points be determined by whether you’re Arab or non-Arab, Muslim or non-Muslim? Wherever you enter, all of your items will be checked, searched, and possibly confiscated.

Every little detail of daily life in Palestine needs a lot of thought and analysis. Nothing will happen quickly or easily. You will find the occupation breaking into our most basic dreams. My hope is to live in peace and with justice, enabling us to achieve our basic safety and security. I wish we were like the players in the stadium, we all had the same rights and everyone had the freedom to play. 

Lastly, I want to leave you with this poem by Palestinian poet Tamim Al-Barghouti, who shared it with the world during the closing ceremony of the World Cup in Qatar:

What brings the tired to play?

what brings the sad to sing?

and what brings a poet like me to a place like this?

Playing a short visit to an alternative world

Equality and fairness, if only for a couple of hours…

Here, you don’t see a team equipped with supersonic boots against a team that must play barefoot.

Nor a team allowed to freely run around the pitch against a team who needs visas to cross the midline

When the ball is in the field both teams are allowed to hit it.

And when all is done, everyone is in good health…

Nothing is shed but sweat and cries are entirely voluntary.

Friends!

This is no game, it is a proposal these lands and peoples present. A world humanity keeps proposing to itself

It is a dream that lives for a couple of hours, yet it is a dream that has lived since the beginning of time. This is what calls the tired to play. And this, to be honest, is the worthiest of wins.


Correction: an earlier version of this article mistakenly numbered the number of villages experiencing forced expulsion in Masafer Yatta at 14, the correct number is nine.

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