Palestinians celebrate Israel’s spectacular Messi ‘own goal’

Jibril Rajoub, Palestinian Football Association chief, led protests against the match, focusing on how the Israeli government politicized the event. (Reuters)
Updated 07 June 2018
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Palestinians celebrate Israel’s spectacular Messi ‘own goal’

  • Argentina’s withdrawal from a highly politicized friendly match in Jerusalem seen as a significant victory for boycott movement
  • The Israel Football Association said that it would file a complaint to FIFA accusing its Palestinian counterpart of pressuring Argentinian players and staff into canceling the match.

Argentina’s decision to withdraw from a football match against Israel was celebrated across Palestine on Wednesday as a victory against the use of sporting events to gloss over “war crimes.” 

 

The World Cup warm-up match was meant to be played on Saturday in the Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem after Israel relocated the event from the national stadium in Haifa. 

The Palestinian effort to persuade the Argentinians to pull out centered on Lionel Messi. The striker is one of the greatest footballers of all time and adored in the occupied territories where his club Barcelona is widely supported. 

The Argentinian decision could be the biggest victory yet for the Palestinian movement to tackle the occupation by campaigning for international boycotts and sanctions against Israel.

“The cancelation of the game was a slap in the face for the Israeli government that spent millions for the game to take place in Jerusalem,” said Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA).

Rajoub led protests against the match, focusing on how the Israeli government politicized the event. He called the Argentinian decision a “victory” for sport. 

Miri Regev, a far-right minister known for her love of the media spotlight, had insisted on moving the match to Jerusalem where it would have taken place on Saturday. The stadium is located in a neighborhood which had once been an Arab village destroyed by Jewish militias in the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. 

She was also attempting to orchestrate a handshake photo opportunity with Messi at a time when the status of Jerusalem has become highly inflammatory after the US moved its embassy there. Jerusalem was invaded and occupied in 1967 by Israel, which wants all of the city as its capital. Palestinians want the eastern part as the capital of their future state.

In recent weeks, at least 119 Gazans were killed by the Israeli military in protests linked to Jerusalem and marking 70 years since hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their land during the formation of Israel.

That Argentina was prepared to cancel one of its precious warm-up matches days ahead of the World Cup illustrates the awkwardness of the situation Israel had placed them in.

In 2013, Messi and his Barcelona teammates toured Israel and Palestine in a carefully planned visit promoting peace in which they trained with children on both sides.

The event could not have been further from the politicking that surrounded this friendly.

The Argentinian football association said that the decision to withdraw was made based on the players’ safety.

Regev claimed “terrorist groups” had made threats against Argentina’s players.

But Palestinians said that the decision was a moral victory. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeted the Argentinian team through its branch in the South American country.

 “This was all part of the Israeli apartheid regime’s sports-washing policy to use international sporting events to cover up its war crimes,” Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said. “The fact that Argentina fans and human rights activists around the world succeeded in thwarting it gives us a lot of hope.”

He said that participating in the event would have been a form of complicity “magnified by Israel’s recent horrific massacre in Gaza.”

Susan Shalabi, the deputy director of the Palestinian Football Association, told Arab News that the PFA had contacted all world sports federations to inform them that Argentina was being used by Israel for political purposes. 

 “At the current time in which the US president and Israeli officials are trying to take Jerusalem off the negotiating table, it is important to see that people power can produce results,” she said.

Shalabi said that if the game was to continue it would have hurt attempts by Argentina to host the world cup in 2030.

Rajoub told “Israel Times” newspaper that his Palestinian football association only began to campaign against the match after Regev decided to move it to Jerusalem and “turn it into a political” event. 

“From that moment on Palestinians launched an intense effort to prevent the game from taking place.”

At the weekend, Rajoub called on Palestinians to burn their Messi shirts if the match went ahead. 

At a press conference in Ramallah on Wednesday he appeared next to a giant picture of himself with Messi and a sign reading: “From Palestine, thank you Messi.”

Hamadeh Freij, a journalist in Gaza, said that people in the besieged territory were excited about the decision and that the issue dominated discussions during iftar.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Liberation Organization secretary, thanked Argentina for “choosing to abide by the principles of international law and for refusing to yield to any form of bullying, intimidation and extortion.”

The Israel Football Association said that it would file a complaint to FIFA accusing its Palestinian counterpart of pressuring Argentinian players and staff into canceling the match, AFP reported.

In announcing the decision, Claudio Tapia, president of the Argentine Football Association, apologized for canceling the match but said that the safety of the players was at stake.

“It’s nothing against the Israeli community, the Jewish community and I would like everyone to take this decision as a contribution to world peace,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Argentine President Mauricio Macri and urged him to intervene, to no avail, AP reported.

Israel’s Sports Ministry later claimed a “negotiation” about the match was underway, but gave no further details.

On Wednesday, Israeli opposition figures rounded on Regev, accusing her of mishandling the whole event and scoring a spectacular own goal.

Many Palestinians took to social media, initially to protest against the match and then to thank Argentina for its decision to withdraw. 

 “Thanks @Argentina & Lionel Messi for canceling Israel ‘friendly.’ “You scored a goal for freedom, justice and equality,” said a relative of Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian minor jailed in Israel for confronting Israeli forces.


Sudan protests rumble on as Bashir remains defiant

Updated 42 min 53 sec ago
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Sudan protests rumble on as Bashir remains defiant

  • Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff
  • Bashir has remained steadfast in rejecting calls for him to resign

KHARTOUM: One month after protests erupted across Sudan against rising bread prices, anti-government demonstrations have turned into daily rallies against a defiant President Omar al-Bashir who has rejected calls to resign.
Protest organisers have called for a march on the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on Thursday, along with simultaneous demonstrations in several other cities.
Authorities say at least 24 people have died since the protests first broke out on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.
Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff.
The protests have escalated into nationwide anti-government demonstrations that experts say pose the biggest challenge to Bashir since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.
"I have been demonstrating and will continue to demonstrate until this regime is overthrown," vowed Adel Ibrahim, 28, who has participated in demonstrations in Khartoum.
"We are protesting to save our future and the future of our homeland."
Protests initially broke out in the eastern town of Atbara, which has a history of anti-government sentiment, and within days spread to other provinces and then to Khartoum.
Cities like Port Sudan, Gadaref, Kassala and agricultural regions that previously backed Bashir saw protests calling for him to step down, while the western region of Darfur too witnessed rallies against the 75-year-old veteran leader.
Using social media networks to mobilise crowds, most protesters have marched chanting "Peace, freedom, justice", while some have even adopted the 2011 Arab Spring slogan -- "the people want the fall of the regime".
Crowds of demonstrators, whistling and clapping, have braved volleys of tear gas whenever they have taken to the streets, witnesses said.
"There's a momentum now and people are coming out daily," said prominent Sudanese columnist Faisal Mohamed Salih.
"Even the authorities are astonished."
Although the unrest was triggered by the cut in a vital bread subsidy, Sudan has faced a mounting economic crisis in the past year, including an acute shortage of foreign currency.
Repeated shortages of food and fuel have been reported across cities, including in Khartoum, while the cost of food and medicine has more than doubled.
Officials have blamed Washington for Sudan's economic woes.
The US imposed a trade embargo on Khartoum in 1997 that was lifted only in October 2017. It restricted Sudan from conducting international business and financial transactions.
But critics of Bashir say his government's mismanagement of key sectors and its huge spending on fighting ethnic minority rebellions in Darfur and in areas near the South Sudan border has been stoking economic trouble for years.
"If this regime continues like this, we will soon lose our country, which is why we have to fight," said Ibrahim, who has been looking for a job for years.
An umbrella group of unions of doctors, teachers and engineers calling itself the Sudanese Professionals' Association has spearheaded the campaign, calling this week the "Week of Uprising".
"Protesters don't even know the organisers by names, but they still trust them," said Salih.
Sudanese authorities led by the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have cracked down on protesters, drawing international criticism.
More than 1,000 people, including protesters, activists, opposition leaders and journalists have been arrested so far, rights groups say.
Bashir has remained steadfast in rejecting calls for him to resign.
"Demonstrations will not change the government," he told a rally in Darfur on Monday as supporters chanted "Stay, stay".
"There's only one road to power and that is through the ballot box. The Sudanese people will decide in 2020 who will govern them," said Bashir, who is planning to run for the presidency for the third time in elections to be held next year.
Two uprisings in Sudan in 1964 and 1985 saw regimes change within days, but experts say this time protesters have a long road ahead.
"At the moment, Bashir appears to have the majority of the security services on his side," said Willow Berridge, a lecturer at Britain's Newcastle University.
Bashir's ruling National Congress Party has dismissed the demonstrations.
"There are some gatherings, but they are isolated and not big," party spokesman Ibrahim al-Siddiq told AFP.
The International Crisis Group think-tank said Bashir might well weather the unrest.
"But if he does, it will almost certainly be at the cost of further economic decline, greater popular anger, more protests and even tougher crackdowns," it said in a report.
Salih said protesters appeared to be determined.
"But the one who tires first will lose," he said.