Argentina’s national football team has cancelled an upcoming friendly match with Israel, Argentine news sources reported.
According to Al Jazeera, Argentinian sports website Minutouno reported on Tuesday that Saturday’s game in Jerusalem had been “suspended” amid an “escalation of violence, threats and criticism” directed at captain ‘Leo’ Messi.
Argentina, a major contender to win the World cup this summer, has made four previous pre-World Cup visits to Israel since 1986.
The fixture between the two teams was set to be played in Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium on June 9, which is built on land that was once a Palestinian village that was destroyed in 1948.
Israeli media reported that in light of this latest development, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak to his Argentinian counterpart Mauricio Macri by telephone.
The ambassador of Palestine in Argentina, Husni Abdel Wahed, had expressed his opposition to the friendly.
“This match would be similar to us celebrating … the occupation of Malvinas,” he told Radio Coperativa on Tuesday, referring to the Falkland Islands.
Abdel Wahed went on to say that the match was part of the celebrations of Israel’s 70th anniversary since its establishment in 1948, after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their villages and lands by Zionist paramilitaries.
“For us it is unacceptable to hold this game in Jerusalem because it is occupied territory, and it is painful to see that the team, which has the love and support of so many Palestinians and Arab citizens, support the violation of international law,” he said.
‘Nothing friendly about military occupation ‘
Last month, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement- launched a campaign urging Argentina to pull out of the fixture.
“There is nothing ‘friendly’ about military occupation and apartheid,” the movement said, which calls for an end to the occupation of Palestine, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and equal rights for Palestinians citizens of Israel.
“Don’t play Israel until Palestinians’ human rights are respected.”
BDS criticised the fixture as “political”, and accused Israeli officials of using it to cover up attacks on Palestinians “on and off the field”.
As part of the campaign, Mohammed Khalil, a Palestinian footballer, directed a message toward Argentina’s beloved forward Lionel Messi.
“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.
Khalil was shot by Israeli snipers on March 30, during the first Friday protests of Palestinians demonstrating east of Gaza, demanding their right to return.
He was shot in both of his legs, and one of his knee caps had to be removed, putting an end to his footballing career.
Earlier this week, the head of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) Jibril Rajoub slammed the friendly as being opposite “a game of peace”.
“The Israeli government is trying to give it political significance by insisting it be held in Jerusalem,” Rajoub said.