Soccer player: ‘Al Fida’i is the only thing giving Palestine hope’

June 17, 2024
The Palestinian Football Team, Al Fida’i, at HBF Stadium on June 11. Photo: @Uz_Khawaja/X

Palestine’s soccer team was no match for the Socceroos, losing 5-0 on June 11. But there was plenty of support for the team, affectionately known as “The Warriors” (Al Fida’i) at the HBF Rectangular Stadium in Boorloo/Perth.

The Australian men’s soccer team, currently 24th in the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) rankings, played Al Fida’i at 93.

The Palestinian community and supporters were there with flags and “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” chants could be heard throughout the stadium.

The match concluded the 2nd round of the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

The Socceroos and Al Fida’i had already secured their passage to the 3rd round of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) route of the World Cup Qualifiers, with the Palestinians having done so for the first time ever with a 0-0 draw against Lebanon on June 7 at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Qatar.

Pakistani-born Australian cricketer Usman Khawaja posted on X on June 11: “Cannot wait for this. Palestinian flags will be flying everywhere in HBF park in Perth. And they can’t ban them. Likewise I’m confused that our government doesn’t even recognise? Is this Socceroo’s v Nobody? It’s all very confusing yes.”

Security targeted those with pro-Palestine signs, confiscating many. Some had to cover up their Palestine t-shirts to enter.

The achievements of Al Fida’i come amid Israel’s genocide in Gaza, with the support of the United States, Britain and Australian governments.

The Israel bias shone through with FIFA’s sporting norms being violated.

Jibril Rajoub, Palestinian Football Association President (PFA) was, at the last minute, refused a visa to Australia for the match.

While Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had nothing to do with the decision, the immigration department claimed it was a technical reason.

Rajoub said the reasons were political. “The truth is that my entry was prevented under Israeli pressure, as I had previously entered Australia twice,” he told the ABC on June 11.

Rajoub is also the head of the International Olympic Committee and Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee.

He spent several years in Israeli prisons, before being released in a prisoner swap deal in the 1980s.

He has been campaigning for FIFA to kick Israel out of international football, a move supported by former Socceroo and human rights advocate Craig Foster.

Foster criticised the visa decision and said FIFA should ban Israel until it abided by the rulings of the International Court of Justice and United Nations Security Council.

Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network President Nasser Mashni told ABC on June 11 that Palestinians, Australian Palestinians and supporters “were looking for a moment to escape the genocide” to “celebrate sport, to celebrate humanity, to see how the world game is played here”.

He said Rajoub’s visa denial was a “kick in the guts”.

Amnesty International on June 3 said Australia had denied 4614 Palestinians tourist visas — a 60% rejection rate. “Most of these rejections have been under the basis that the application does not genuinely intend to stay in Australia temporarily. To date, only 340 Palestinians have arrived in Australia.”

Contrast this to the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, when solidarity with Ukraine was encouraged.

At a March 6, 2022, Perth Glory game, a minute’s silence was organised to show that Australia stood with Ukraine.

FIFA was one of the many organisations that immediately sanctioned Russia from international competition.

But on Palestine, FIFA is doing what it can to avoid sanctioning Israel. It suspended a vote on freezing Israel’s membership until July 20.

Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, pointed to the double standard on not sanctioning Israel in April, saying “after the invasion of Ukraine, Russia was sanctioned faster than a Ronaldo penalty kick".

“This is the Palestinian Football Association asking, ‘What about us?’, not only to FIFA, but to the world.”

Rajoub told FIFA on May 17 that close to 300 athletes, mostly football players, have been killed in the war.

Because of Israel’s numerous violations of FIFA regulations, the PFA has been unable to organise a league, or World Cup Qualifiers, in either West Bank or Gaza: 2019 was the last time Palestine hosted a home international.

While players avoid making political statements, the very existence of Al Fida’i is an act of resistance.

Al Fida’i player Mohammed Rashid said he and his teammates wanted to continue providing a rallying cry for Palestinians.

“This [Palestine matches] is the only thing they [Palestinians] are watching. [It’s] the only thing giving them hope.”

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