By Middle East Affairs
Palestinians celebrate a pivotal decision by Argentina to cancel a football match that was relocated to Jerusalem after Israel paid money to move that match from national stadium in Haifa.
The pressure was put directly on Lionel Messi, one of the star players on the team who is widely loved and supported in Palestine.
Palestinians are very happy with Argentina as this has brought wide attention to their cause, and it brings awareness to the BDS movement, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions on Israel for their occupation and treatment of Palestinians.
Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) said, “The cancelation of the game was a slap in the face for the Israeli government that spent millions for the game to take place in Jerusalem.”
Rajoub who just days before threatened a campaign against Messi, organizing a burning of his jersey, called Argentina’s decision a victory for sport.
Had the game taken place on Saturday, it would have been taken place in the the Teddy Kollek Stadium stadium which is located in a neighborhood that once belonged to the Arab community, but was destroyed in the 1948 Palestinian Nakba by Jewish militias.
The relocation of the game from Haifa to Jerusalem was heavily orchestrated by Miri Regev, a far-right minister.
On Wednesday when Argentina announced its decision, it said it was not a political decision but rather had to do with players safety. Regev made claims that “terrorist groups” threatened Argentina’s players, especially Messi, and even his wife.
Messi and his Barcelona teammates visited Israel and Palestine in 2013 to train and promote peace to children on both sides.
Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel said, “This was all part of the Israeli apartheid regime’s sports-washing policy to use international sporting events to cover up its war crimes. The fact that Argentina fans and human rights activists around the world succeeded in thwarting it gives us a lot of hope.”
Barghouti also said that Argentina playing this match in Israel would have glorified Israel’s war crimes of killing over 122 Palestinians since March and wounding over 3000, including shooting dead a 21 year old medic that was administering treatment to critically injured Palestinians in the field.
Israel has been fast to shoot and ask questions later, including pointing their snipers at young Palestinians with the aim to mangle and disable them for the rest of their lives.
The decision for Argentina to cancel the match was a full effort by several notable Palestinian figures who pursued the cancellation as goal to be achieved. The deputy director of the Palestinian Football Association, Susan Shalabi told Arab News, “At the current time in which the US president and Israeli officials are trying to take Jerusalem off the negotiating table, it is important to see that people power can produce results.”
She said that her association had made sure to notify all world sports federation of Israel using Argentina’s match for political purpose, and help them celebrate its 70th anniversary.
Rajoub said that Palestine’s efforts to cancel the match came only after it was relocated to Jerusalem which they see as a political move.
He said, “From that moment on Palestinians launched an intense effort to prevent the game from taking place.”
On Wendesday, Rajoub held a press conference and sat next to a sign with himself and Messi which read, “From Palestine, thank you Messi.”
A journalist in Gaza Hamadeh Freij said that Argentina’s decision to cancel the match filled iftar conversations in the territories and delighted Palestinians.
Saeb Erekat, from the Palestinian Liberation Organization was grateful for the cancellation of the match, he thanked Argentina for “choosing to abide by the principles of international law and for refusing to yield to any form of bullying, intimidation and extortion.”
Israel was very unhappy about the decision, and placed immediate blame on Palestine. The Israel Football Association threatened to file a complaint to FIFA against Palestine for meddling and pressuring Argentina.
Claudio Tapia, president of the Argentine Football Association said, “It’s nothing against the Israeli community, the Jewish community and I would like everyone to take this decision as a contribution to world peace.”
Israel’s Prime Minister called Argentine’s president Mauricio Macri and pleaded with him to restore the match, but the president said it was out of his hands.
Israel’s Sports Ministry on Wednesday announced that negotiations for the game were still happening, but didn’t specify as what kind of negotiations as Argentina had officially cancelled the game at that point.
Palestinians took to social media to thank Argentina, it’s players, and Messi for their decision. A relative of Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian minor jailed in Israel for confronting Israeli forces, wrote, “Thanks @Argentina & Lionel Messi for canceling Israel ‘friendly.’ “You scored a goal for freedom, justice and equality.”