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PALESTINIANS celebrated today after Argentina cancelled its trip to apartheid Israel.
The Palestinian FA announced late last night that Argentina had succumbed to months of pressure from human rights campaigners around the world to cancel the friendly planned for Saturday.
The match “would have been extremely unfriendly to human rights,” quipped Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (Pacbi).
“Playing with an apartheid state is a form of complicity, magnified by Israel’s recent horrific massacre in Gaza against unarmed protesters demanding their basic freedom, dignity and UN-stipulated refugee right of return.
Initially set to be held in Haifa, the Israeli government moved the match to Jerusalem and a stadium built on the ethnically cleansed Palestinian village of al-Maliha.
Israel’s far-right Sports Minister Miri Regev is said to have conditioned the match on a photo-op with the Argentinian team.
After news of the cancellation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately called Argentinian President Mauricio Macri to intervene, but Macri replied that he had no authority over the decision.
And Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman whined: “It’s unfortunate the soccer knights of Argentina did not withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters, whose only goal is to harm our basic right to self-defence and bring about the destruction of Israel.”
But Argentina’s footballers were happy with the decision.
“In the end, they’ve done right thing and this is behind us,” striker Gonzalo Higuain told ESPN. “Health and common sense come first. We felt that it wasn't right to go.”
And Regev was also under fire in Israel, with opposition leader Isaac Herzog accusing him of scoring “a spectacular own goal.”
Zionist Union number two Tzipi Livni said the move was a result of “Regev and Netanyahu’s insistence on turning the game from a display of sportsmanship into a display of personal politics.
“We should have left the players on the pitch, the fans in the stands and the politicians outside,” she wrote on Twitter.
Israeli media had reported that Israel had agreed to pay $3 million to host the match, with the sum halved if Lionel Messi did not play.
Pacbi’s Barghouti hit out at the “sports-washing” attempt.
“This was all part of the Israeli apartheid regime’s sports-washing policy to use international sporting events to cover up its war crimes and egregious human rights violations against Palestinians.
“The fact that Argentina fans and human rights activists around the world succeeded in thwarting it gives us a lot of hope.”
Football fans and Palestinian human rights supporters had urged the Argentinian team and Messi to cancel the match.
Palestinian footballer Mohammad Khalil, whose career ended after he was shot by an Israeli sniper in both legs as he peacefully protested in Gaza, also urged Argentina and Messi to cancel the match with Israel.
Argentinian trade unions as well as the Madres de Plaza del Mayo joined the calls. Last week, a rally took place outside the Argentina FA in Buenos Aires.
Protests followed the Argentina team to Barcelona. Yesterday, during a team training session, Palestinian rights supporters used a megaphone to deliver the message directly to the players.
Palestine’s FA said: “The will of values, ethics and the message of sport triumphed today and the red card was lifted in Israel's face by cancelling this match.”
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