Palestinians enjoying the WC

2010-06-30 09:30
What does the Soccer World Cup, presently being played in South Africa, mean generally to Palestinians?

In a place where movement is restricted behind walls and army checkpoints, and freedom is curtailed, football provides momentary escapism. Every night, hundreds gather in public places where cellular companies and others advertising for business, have put up giant television screens to feature the games played in the various South African venues.

It is big social event, and unlike the practice in some Arab countries, male and females generally mix at these gatherings. Also children join in, oblivious of all the football excitement and rejoice in their own company and games. It is the summer holidays and what better way to spend the balmy evenings than to watch World Cup football from a distant land.

Generally football is a big sport here and during the course of the year Palestinians support their favourite teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid or Inter Milan, which speaks so much for their appreciation for quality Spanish soccer.

However, come the World Cup, the support in the main switches to Brazil, where a large number of Palestinian refugees reside. Also Brazil’s unwavering support for the Palestinian cause creates a passionate following. Driving around the city of Ramallah, taxis and private vehicles proudly display Brazilian flags in the main. Stores that suddenly sell flags, scarves, photos and other paraphernalia are teeming with eager supporters.

Going back to the venues that feature the games on their giant television screens, they are dotted with the water pipes that locals smoke with such relish and accompany with tea or coffee, with the aroma wafting through the air, creating a sensory atmosphere so distant from the vuvuzela audio-sensual dominated experience of the games proper.

I wonder if an entrepreneur imported vuvuzelas into town, he/she would have racked in money and created a new fad. On the other hand, clearing them through the Israeli ports may have created a perception that they could be a security hazard to the State of Israel, if they were suddenly employed at demonstrations or protest marches. So thank God, no vuvuzelas in town, although they would have somewhat added to the festive atmosphere.

It must be noted that many Palestinians watch the games in the privacy of their homes, but these communal gatherings in the summer time fall in line with the cultural spirit of the people. When goals are scored a huge roar emanates from just about everyone present and then animated discussions result on that particular passage of play. I should add that the television commentary is in Arabic and some of the sportscasters have become legends here.

All in all, technology has brought the Soccer World Cup from a distant and liberated land and created momentary enjoyment for a people still struggling for their own freedom, and experiencing it with them just manifests the magic of the universal game of football.

- Rafique Gangat is the former South African Representative to Palestine and currently a Media Consultant in the Region.

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