To the Delight of Fans, Saudis Play Soccer Match in West Bank for First Time in Decades

Saudi Arabia’s soccer team will play against the national team in Palestine in the West Bank for the first time in over a decade, delighting fans from both sides.

The match, planned for Tuesday, has “electrified Palestinians” not just because it’s a World Cup qualifying match, but because it’s a home game actually played at home, the Times of Israel reports. Arab clubs and national teams have historically refused to play in the Palestinian territories — captured by the Jewish state since 1967 — as it requires obtaining entry permits to Israel, a country most of them do not recognize.

Palestine’s home matches have been played in neighboring countries. But Saudi Arabia’s visit to the area is a boost for the country as both teams look to make gains in the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup.

Saudi authorities and fans alike did not want the decision to be confused with a normalizing of relations with Israel. According to the Saudi Sports Authority, the decision to play in the West Bank was “at the request of the brothers in the Palestinian federation” and to ensure the team is “not deprived the chance to play at home and among its fans.”

While visiting Palestine, players from Saudi Arabia’s national soccer team travelled to Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday to pray at one of Islam’s holiest sites, Reuters reports.