Monday, July 12, 2010

Watching the World Cup in Palestine

Millions of people around the world gathered around TV screens to watch the World Cup finals between Spain and the Netherlands last night. In the West Bank city of Nablus, around two thousand Palestinians crowded into an open-air hillside amphitheatre to watch the game projected on a massive screen. I and three other foreigners were among them, surrounded by cheering, joking, laughing Palestinians. Spanish flags waved everywhere, with the occasional red-white-blue of the Netherlands visible. Twenty or so Italians gathered on the floor of the amphitheatre, a French couple were somewhere in the crowd, and a handful of other foreigners were interspersed across the hillside.

Young boys wove their way through the crowd carrying drinks and sunflower seeds, older boys offering steaming tea and coffee. Bags of sweets moved through the crowd, and a couple found their way into our hands after being purchased by our new Palestinian friends, who were sitting in front of us. Bags of sunflower seeds were passed. "Espana? Espana?" eager voices asked us, with a few shaking their heads as my friends and I affirmed we were rooting for Spain.

As the game neared a close after 30 minues of overtime, the cheering became deafening. Everyone was on their feet, cheering as much for every goal saved as for the goal made by Spain. Masses of Palestinian youth poured onto the streets at the end of the match, Spanish flags flying out the windows of cars and horns blaring as we hailed a cab and headed back to our Nablus flat.

I have to say, watching the World Cup finals at an open-air amphitheatre in Nablus surrounded by thousands of Palestinians was definitely the experience of a lifetime - even for someone who isn't really a football fan.

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