(MENAFN- The Conversation) Palestine was about to embark on its 2026 men's Fifa World Cup qualifying campaign when the latest round of Hamas-Israeli conflict broke out, making Palestine's national football stadium in the Israeli-occupied West Bank potentially unsafe for matches. As a result, the Asian Football Confederation asked the football-loving nation to stage its home matches in a neutral venue. Algeria in north Africa offered to host Palestine's games and cover its players' costs. Mahfoud Amara is a specialist in the intersection of sport and politics with a particular research focus on football in the Arab world. We asked him three questions.
What's the history of Algeria and Palestine's relationship?
There are parallels between the colonial systems in Algeria and Palestine. Both nations have been under direct military and settlement occupation. In the case of Algeria this was until independence in 1962.
Algeria had a large population of European settlers who confiscated the land of the Arab and Berber population. France legitimised its occupation of Algeria on the basis that there was no such thing as an Algerian nation with a state entity before 1830. Israel's ideology denies the existence of a Palestinian nation prior to the unilateral announcement of the birth of the state of Israel in 1948.
Algerians used various means to reclaim their independence from France, including armed struggle. The fiercest conflict – from 1954 to 1962 – resulted in independence and a large number of casualties, particularly Algerian. In the 1960s and 1970s, Algeria was considered a pinnacle of revolutionary movements.
The Palestinian nationalist movement was inspired by the Algerian one in its struggle to achieve independence using both political and violent means. Since independence, Algeria has been supportive of the Palestinian cause. Algeria participated in the Arab-Israeli wars , fighting against Israel. Following the Israeli invasion of south Lebanon in 1982, Algeria received Palestinian refugees. So there is a long, shared history.
Radio Free Palestine was broadcast from Algeria until the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. The Oslo Accords aimed to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a negotiated two-state solution.
How does their football history unite them?
Both are nations with a great passion for football. The sport brings hope in difficult times and is a vehicle for political expression. Algeria and Palestine are ardent supporters of one another's national teams. They share historical similarities in creating these teams.
Algerian people, under the leadership of the National Liberation Front or FLN (proclaimed as the representative of the Algerian revolution, similar to the Palestinian Authority in relation to the Palestinian struggle), used all means to amplify Algeria's cause for independence, including sports. Football played a significant role.
In 1958, a Fifa World Cup year, the FLN ordered all Algerian professional players in Europe – most of them playing in France – to leave their comfortable lives and fame and secretly travel to Tunisia to form the FLN football team . This served to bring the Algerian conflict into the spotlight, especially in metropolitan France. Fifa, the sport's world governing body, did not recognise the Algerian team. Even so, it played a number of matches with national teams from north Africa and socialist countries to build support for the Algerian cause. The Algerian Football Federation officially joined Fifa in 1964. The famous 2016 friendly match between Algeria and Palestine. Farouk Batiche/AFP/Getty Images
The Arab Palestine Sports Federation was founded in 1931 and re-established in 1944. It had 55 athletic clubs affiliated with it. The Nakba (catastrophe) refers to the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. It put a stop to Palestinian national sports and pushed most Palestinians into exile and refugee camps.
After the Oslo Accords of 1993, the Palestinian Football Federation gained affiliation with various international sports federations. This included Fifa in 1998. However, since then, the federation has encountered persistent challenges in establishing a viable national football infrastructure. This is mainly because of the enduring fragmentation of the Palestinian territory and population – spanning the West Bank, Gaza, various refugee camps and the diaspora. In order to safeguard the mobility and travel rights of Palestinian players, the federation has had to adeptly navigate these challenges to play in international competitions.
How does this play out on the football field today?
Algeria is ranked 34 in the world by Fifa and is a leading contender in Africa. Palestine's team is ranked 97 and has qualified for the Asian Cup of Nations three years in a row. It is a symbol of national unity .
Having Algeria as the host for Palestine's training camps and international matches for the 2026 World Cup and 2027 Asian Cup offers some stability. Being in Algeria will provide access to infrastructure, football support and – most importantly – a large base of fans. A friendly match between Palestine and Algeria in 2016 gathered thousands of Algerian fans, estimated at 80,000. Many cheered for Palestine. Algeria hosting Palestine in 2023 is an opportunity to reiterate its support for the Palestinian cause and to leverage its sports diplomacy.
Read more: Morocco will co-host the 2030 World Cup – Palestine and Western Sahara will be burning issues
For the Palestinian Football Federation, maintaining a presence in the international football arena will help to promote the rights of Palestinians to practise sports and represent their country.
The sports arena has emerged as an unconventional yet powerful platform for the expression of solidarity with political causes like Palestine's. This becomes all the more significant when considering the fragmented positions held by Arab states regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While official state positions may differ, the people – particularly Arab players and fans – have often used sports events to fly the Palestinian flag.
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