Palestinians have thanked the Argentinian football team and star forward Lionel Messi for cancelling their friendly match with Israel scheduled for Saturday, according to the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).
Football fans and Palestinian human rights supporters had urged the Argentinian team to cancel the match, set to take place in an Israeli stadium built on the ethnically cleansed Palestinian village of Al-Maliha in response to Israel's violent response to peaceful protesters on the Gaza border that left over 120 dead.
Initially set to be held in Haifa, the Israeli government moved the match to the Jerusalem village, offering the organisers $760,000 in compensation. Israel was reportedly already paying Argentina $3 million to play the match as part of its celebrations to mark 70 years of its independence, when it forcibly expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homes.
"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," Omar Barghouti of PACBI said.
In a video message, the football team from the Palestinian town of Nabi Saleh, in the occupied West Bank, thanked Argentina and Lionel Messi. Nabi Saleh is home to Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian minor serving months in an Israeli prison for slapping a heavily-armed Israeli occupation soldier invading her property.
"You scored a goal for freedom, justice and equality," the video states.
After news of the cancellation broke this morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Argentinian President Mauricio Macri requesting his intervention, but Macri responded that he had no authority over the decision.
The cancellation of Israel's "friendly" match with Argentina is a boost to the Red Card Israel campaign, which has called on the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) to expel Israel – as it expelled apartheid South Africa – due to its violations against Palestinian football and its disregard for FIFA statutes.
The planned match was met with fierce criticism with thousands signing a petition for it to be cancelled. 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 Messi to support the cancellation of the game.
Last week, protests took place outside the Argentina Football Association (AFA) in Buenos Aires with Argentinian trade unions joining the calls. The controversy followed the team to Barcelona; during the team's training session yesterday ahead of the World Cup, Palestinian rights supporters used a megaphone to deliver the message directly to the players.