In the face of intense local and international pressure, the Argentine national football team canceled its match against Israel scheduled for June 6 at the Sami Ofer stadium in Haifa. The decision was made despite lengthy preparations in Buenos Aires and the raising of $2.5 million to fund the friendly match.
Calls for the match to be canceled were made by the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the Argentine Committee of Solidarity with Palestine, as well as by human rights and solidarity organizations in this South American country. The requests were made in response to a letter from Al-Khader Football Club of Palestine to the Argentine national team.
The letter received wide coverage, not least because Al-Khader FC player Mohammad Ghneim, 19, was killed by Israeli occupying forces in April. He also mentions the killing by an Israeli sniper earlier this month. AlJazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, as well as all the other Palestinian martyrs killed in their occupied territory.
Argentina’s “friendly” match against apartheid Israel is cancelled.
In a widely covered letter, Palestinian club Al Khader, whose player Mohammad Ghneim was shot in the back by Israeli soldiers in April, urged Argentina to cancel.
Not toying with apartheid is always the right decision. pic.twitter.com/W1pmby7SQr
— PACBI (@PACBI) May 24, 2022
The club told the South Americans they could not ‘keep silent as a team as important as Argentina are planning to come here to play a ‘friendly’ game which will be used by Israel to cleanse its regime of “apartheid. These exhibition matches contribute to ensuring the impunity that allows Israel to continue to include the murder and maiming of young Palestinian footballers among its many crimes.” The letter was addressed to the president of the Argentine Football Association, Claudio Tapia.
“Keep number 14 in your mind,” Al-Khader FC said in their letter. “That was our teammate Mohammad’s team number. He’s not a player now, but you can help stop Israel from continuing to kill our young Palestinian players. Mohammad was shot in the back by soldiers near his family’s home, and it’s not far from Israel’s infamous apartheid wall that cuts through our land, steals farms, takes water resources and separates Palestinian cities from each other.”
At the headquarters of the Argentine Football Association in Buenos Aires, Palestinian rights activists hailed the cancellation of the match in apartheid Israel. They waved Palestinian flags and waved red cards to condemn Israeli apartheid violations against the Palestinians.
🇵🇸Argentina. Celebraron frente a la AFA que la selección de fútbol no viaje a jugar a Israel / Revindicación de la lucha del pueblo palestino – https://t.co/fCW2i9IdNW
—Rafael Araya Masry (@arayamas) May 27, 2022
Palestinian football clubs have already called for international solidarity. Four years ago, Palestinian solidarity groups in Argentina helped cancel the national team’s warm-up match ahead of the World Cup in Jerusalem. On this occasion, Israel argued that the Argentine team withdrew due to Palestinian threats against the stadium.
In March 2018, 134 football clubs demanded that Adidas 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 regularly attacked, imprisoned and killed”. In fact, Palestinian players are often denied freedom of movement to play their own matches. Additionally, the Israeli occupation army bombed and destroyed many Palestinian soccer fields and other sports facilities. Israel even prevents Palestinians from importing football equipment and developing playing and training facilities.
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Football is now a global phenomenon and the Argentina national team’s decision will highlight Israel’s injustice and violations against the people of occupied Palestine. The reality of Israel’s ugly face will be exposed for all to see.
Several elite footballers have publicly shown their solidarity with the Palestinians, 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 athletes must not allow themselves to be used to whitewash Israel’s apartheid regime. Well done, then, to the Argentina national football team for this courageous and principled decision.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.