Palestinians and fans display the flag during exciting World Cup qualifiers

The red, white, green and black Palestinian flag, which was moved from the occupied West Bank to Kuwait due to the Israel-Hamas war, was omnipresent at the match.

Palestinian flags and a black and white keffiyah scarf flew high at the Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium in Kuwait as Palestine faced Australia in a World Cup qualifier.

Thousands of Palestinians and their supporters turned out for a 60,000-seat soccer match on Tuesday. It was the first football match in Palestine in front of fans since the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas.

“Palestine is in our hearts. We came to the stadium, young and old, to support,” Anfal Al-Azmi, a 45-year-old Kuwaiti woman, told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

The only difference between the two teams was a goal by defender Harry Souttar in the 18th minute, with Australia winning 1-0 in a match where the action on the pitch was almost random.

Palestinian fans hold Palestinian national flags before a football match against Australia [Jaber Abdulkhaleg/AP Photo]

The match came more than six weeks after Palestinian Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people and took about 240 hostages in southern Israel, Israeli officials say, in an attack launched from the Gaza Strip on October 7.

Israel, vowing to destroy Hamas, responded by unleashing a ferocious air and ground attack on Gaza, killing more than 14,100 people, including 5,600 children, according to Palestinian officials.

“We are not interested in the match. We came to convey a message,” said Wael Youssef Labbad, a 40-year-old Palestinian from Ashkelon, Israel.

“We, the Palestinian people, are always present with the keffiyah and the flag.”

At the match, which was moved from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank because of the war, the red, black, white and green Palestinian flag was ubiquitous, with many fans waving their distinctive keffiyehs while chanting.

Harry Souttar
Harry Souttar scored the winning goal for Australia [Jaber Abdulkhaleg/AP Photo]

Others held “Free Gaza” banners and photos of keys, symbolizing homes lost by Palestinians during the Nakba, or the disaster when more than 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced around Israel’s founding in 1948.

Australian players will donate part of their entry fee to humanitarian efforts in the Gaza Strip, the situation of which was described by visiting coach Graham Arnold as “appalling”.

Not all fans were Palestinian. Many came from communities in the oil-rich Gulf country.

“Kuwait and Palestine are one. Today we are guests of Palestine on their land,” said 36-year-old Kuwaiti Ahmed Al-Anezi, who was draped in a Palestinian flag and wearing a keffiyeh.

“Today, I and my entire family have come to provide support to the Palestinian people and to strengthen the first Arab cause in the souls of my children.”

18-year-old Syrian university student Yahya Shaher said: “We are here to support our brothers. We are one and victory is ours.”


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