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Argentina team (Image Credit: Wikimedia)

Argentina has canceled a friendly football match which was to be held on Saturday with Israel. About the cancellation of the match, Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain said they had “finally done the right thing”.

“In the end, they’ve done the right thing, and this is behind us,” Higuain told ESPN. “Health and common sense come first. We felt that it wasn’t right to go.”

The Israeli embassy in Argentina tweeted to confirm that the friendly, which was due to take place in Jerusalem on Saturday, had been ‘suspended’. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Argentina’s president but was told by Mauricio Macri that “there was nothing that I could do”, Israel’s Army Radio reported.

Lionel Messi on TyC Sport“ said, as a UNICEF ambassador, I cannot play against people who kill innocent Palestinian children. We had to cancel the game because we are humans before footballers. Higuain added, “There was uncertainty around but our decision was final when Messi asked us how we could play with a calm mind with so many Palestinians suffering.”

Argentina foreign minister Jorge Faurie had said he believed his country’s footballers “were not willing to play the game”. Argentina Football Association vice president Hugo Moyano echoed Higuain and said the friendly against Israel was “not worth it”. “I think it’s a good thing that the match between Argentina and Israel was suspended,” Moyano told Argentina’s Radio 10. “The stuff that happens in those places, where they kill so many people, as a human being you can’t accept that in any way.”

In Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Football Association issued a statement thanking Argentina striker Lionel Messi and his teammates. “What happened… is a red card from the rest of the world to Israelis,” the association’s president, Jibril Rajoub, told a news conference on Wednesday.

The campaign group Avaaz, which had called for the game to be canceled, praised Argentina’s football team for what it called a ‘brave ethical decision’. “This proves Argentina understands there is nothing friendly about playing in Jerusalem when just miles away Israeli snipers are shooting unarmed protesters,” spokeswoman Alice Jay said.

Saturday’s football World Cup warm-up match, which was to be Argentina’s final game before the start of their World Cup campaign in Russia later this month, was to be played at the Teddy Kollek Stadium in West Jerusalem.

The status of Jerusalem is highly sensitive. Israel regards the city as its “eternal and undivided” capital. Palestinians see the eastern part of Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Palestinians were angered by a decision by promoters to relocate the Argentina football game to Jerusalem from Haifa, reportedly after the Israeli government contributed funding.
The head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, told a press conference that the decision was ‘on the right track’. “I think this is according to FIFA statutes and according to their principles and mission to promote ethics and values, and to build a bridge between nations rather than being a tool for political ends,” he said, adding: “the Israelis tried to use Messi and those stars from Argentina.”

Saturday’s match was set to be played at the Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem, which sits on the site of a Palestinian village, al-Malha.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) also thanked the team and striker Lionel Messi specifically for the decision and called for Israel to be booted from world football for its abuses against Palestinians.

“We welcome news that [Argentina’s] ‘friendly’ football match with Israel has been canceled!” PACBI wrote on Twitter. “The team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israel’s sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians.”

According to Aljazeera’s report, The Argentinians pulled out after widespread condemnation by Palestinian and human rights activists, which included a message by a Palestinian footballer wounded by an Israeli sniper during a protest.

Mohammed Khalil was shot in the leg in Gaza on March 30 during the first in a wave of protests demanding the right of return for refugees living in the besieged territory. “I call on the Argentinian team and especially captain Lionel Messi – because he is very popular in Palestine, particularly in the Gaza Strip – to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and to boycott the scheduled game with Israel, which is occupying our land,” Khalil said.

American Palestinian lawyer Noura Erakat said that the decision by Argentina and the preceding campaign were unprecedented. “This is major. If I’m right this is the first sports boycott of its kind. An indication of mainstream support for Palestine [and] a bold rejection of US/Israeli violent [and] exclusionary futures. Thank you [Argentina],” she tweeted.

Furthermore, Israel said it will file a complaint with FIFA, the global footballing governing body, against the Palestinians over the scrapped match.

Argentinian star Lionel Messi is widely regarded as one of the best footballers in the world, alongside Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo, and has a strong fanbase in Palestine and the wider Middle East. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel welcomed Argentina’s cancellation of the match, saying it would have been “extremely unfriendly to human rights.”

“Playing with an apartheid state is a form of complicity, magnified by Israel’s recent horrific massacre in Gaza against unarmed protesters demanding their basic freedom, dignity and U.N.-stipulated refugee right of return,” said Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement. He said it was part of an Israeli policy of “sports-washing … using international sporting events to cover up its war crimes and egregious human rights violations against Palestinians.”
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary General Saeb Erekat said Argentina, its people and team had upheld international law in the face of Israeli violations including killings of innocent Palestinians along the Gaza border.

Fadi Quran, a Ramallah-based senior campaigner for the Avaaz online activist network, said, “Argentina’s decision has brought a spark of hope to millions of Palestinians who felt forgotten. From Palestine, we say thank you Argentina for taking a moral stance and reminding the world that Palestinian lives matter.”

Mr. Quran dismissed Israeli assertions that Argentina’s move came about because of threats to players, saying Avaaz had worked closely with BDS and encouraged 200,000 members in Argentina and Spain to send messages to the Argentinian Football Federation demanding withdrawal from the match. “We got the message to them that they were being played by the Israeli government and they bravely took the right position.”

Since March 30, more than 120 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military as they have continued to demonstrate along the Gaza border. On Friday, 21-year-old Palestinian medical volunteer Razan Ashraf al-Najjar was killed as she tried to attend to the wounded, drawing international attention to the situation.

Israel’s defense minister said it was “too bad” Argentina’s footballers did not “withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters”. “We will not yield before a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters,” Avigdor Lieberman tweeted.

In December, US President Donald Trump had infuriated Palestinians by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The US embassy was moved there from Tel Aviv last month.

 

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