Middle East

Argentina national football team cancels match with Israel

In the face of intensive local and international pressure, the Argentine national football team has cancelled its match against Israel scheduled for 6 June at the Sami Ofer Stadium in Haifa. The decision has been taken despite lengthy preparations in Buenos Aires and the raising of $2.5 million to fund the friendly game.

Calls for the match to be cancelled were made by the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the Argentinian Palestine Solidarity Committee, as well as human rights and solidarity organisations in the South American country. The demands were made in response to a letter from Palestine’s Al-Khader Football Club to the Argentine national team.

The letter received wide coverage, not least because Al-Khader FC player Mohammad Ghneim, 19, was killed by Israeli occupation forces in April. It also mentioned the killing by an Israeli sniper earlier this month of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, as well as all of the other Palestinian martyrs killed in their occupied land.

The club told the South Americans that it cannot “remain silent while a team as important as Argentina makes plans to come here to play a ‘friendly’ match that will be used by Israel to clean up its apartheid regime. These exhibition matches help ensure the impunity that allows Israel to continue to include the murder and maiming of young Palestinian soccer players among its many crimes.” The letter was addressed to the president of the Argentina Football Association, Claudio Tapia.

“Keep number 14 in your mind,” said Al-Khader FC in its letter. “It was our teammate Mohammad’s team number. He is no longer a player now, but you can help to prevent Israel from continuing to kill our young Palestinian players. Mohammad was shot in the back by Israeli soldiers near his family’s home, and it is not far away from Israel’s notorious apartheid wall that cuts our land, steals farms, takes water resources and separates Palestinian towns from each other.”

At the Buenos Aires headquarters of the Argentina Football Association, Palestinian rights activists welcomed the cancellation of the match in apartheid Israel. They held aloft Palestinian flags and flashed red cards to condemn the violations of apartheid Israel against the Palestinians.

Palestinian football clubs have called for international solidarity before. Four years ago, Palestinian solidarity groups in Argentina helped to get the national team’s pre-World Cup warm up game in Jerusalem cancelled. On that occasion, Israel argued that the Argentina team pulled out because of Palestinian threats to the stadium.

In March 2018, 134 football clubs demanded that Adidas should stop sponsoring the Israel Football Association (IFA). They argued that Israeli teams were allowed to compete in the occupied West Bank where “Palestinian players are routinely attacked, imprisoned and killed.” In fact, Palestinian players are often denied the freedom of movement to play in their own matches. Moreover, the Israeli occupation army has bombed and destroyed many Palestinian football pitches and other sports facilities. Israel even prevents Palestinians from importing football kit and developing playing and training facilities.

READ: Algeria lawyers boycott Morocco football championship due to Israel’s participation

Football is now a global phenomenon and the move by the Argentina national team will highlight Israel’s injustice and violations against the people of occupied Palestine. The reality of Israel’s ugly face will be laid bare for all to see.

Several elite footballers have signalled their solidarity with the Palestinians publicly, as have a number of clubs. While critics argue that sport should not be mixed with politics, the truth is that sport should not be separated from freedom and justice. Footballers and other sportsmen and women should not let themselves be used to whitewash Israel’s apartheid regime. Full marks, therefore, to the Argentina national football team for this brave, principled decision.

Picture shows a jersey of Argentina’s national football team with a text reading “Thanks for being on the right side of history” as pro-Palestine activists gather to celebrate the cancellation of a scheduled friendly football match between Israel and Argentina in Jerusalem ahead of the World Cup 2018 in Russia, outside of the Barcelona hotel where the Argentinian squad is staying on June 6, 2018 in Barcelona [PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images]

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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