Palestinians have welcomed the Argentinian football team’s decision to pull out of a planned friendly match with Israel.
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 Argentinia.”
Saturday’s match was set to be played at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, which sits on the site of a Palestinian village.
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.
“The team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israel’s sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians.”
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.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reported to have called Argentinian leader Mauricio Macri in a failed bid to get the game reinstated.
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.