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

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.

Jordanians fight back against terrorism

King Abdullah and Crown Prince Hussein during their visit to the Gendarmerie and Public Security Directorates headquarters in Amman on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2018

Jordanians fight back against terrorism

  • Militants from Daesh and other radical groups have long targeted Jordan and dozens of militants are serving long prison terms
  • Jordanian security forces have been extra vigilant having warned that sympathizers of Daesh could launch revenge attacks after militants were driven out of most of the territory

JEDDAH: The terrorist attacks in Jordan over the weekend shocked the country but the people support the security agencies in countering extremist ideologies, political analysts told Arab News on Tuesday.
The chain of events in Jordan began on Friday when assailants detonated a homemade bomb under a police car guarding a music festival in the predominantly Christian town of Fuheis, west of the capital, Amman. The blast killed a police officer.
Security forces chasing the Fuheis suspects raided a multi-story building in the nearby town of Salt on Saturday.
The militants opened fire and set off explosives, killing four members of the security forces and collapsing part of the building. Three suspects were killed and five were taken into custody.
The assailants had hoarded large quantities of explosives that were apparently intended for attacks on civilians in public places and on security installations. The explosives “were ready, on a timer, and could be detonated immediately,” government spokeswoman Jumana Ghuneimat told reporters at a press conference on Monday.
According to university professor and geopolitical analyst Amer Sabaileh, the attack in Fuheis and the subsequent clashes in the city of Salt indicated that the terrorists were currently targeting the security services.
“The explosive device planted under a security patrol’s vehicle in Fuheis did not target civilians, although there were large numbers participating in the Fuheis Festival. They insisted on sending a clear message that the target of terrorism at this stage are the security services,” Sabaileh said.
This trend indicated that there was an internal decision among the members of these terrorist organizations that the “enemy” was the security members but not civilians.
This puts the members of the security services in direct confrontation with this pattern of terrorism, which was clearly evident in other countries where the security services were targeted directly, he said.
However, this did not mean that the terrorists might not also target civilians in the future.
Sabaileh praised the timely security operation to unveil and swiftly counter the terrorist cell behind the Fuhais attack in less than 24 hours.
“The logical reading of the events of Salt indicates the high effectiveness of the anti-terrorism squad at the Jordanian intelligence department, which was able to read the facts of the Fuheis attack and identify the people and the point of their presence very quickly,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said, the high number of casualties among the security task force that responded to the terrorists requires the Jordanian authorities to revise all security plans, training and tactics.
Officials said on Monday that the suspected militants who killed members of Jordan’s security forces over the weekend were Jordanian citizens who support the ideology of the Daesh group but did not have proven links to foreign funding or foreign extremist organizations.
“It is clear that all the conferences, seminars and funds spent on strategies and plans to combat extremism and terrorism, and the establishment of a special unit (the anti-extremism unit), were in vain and had no real value, and this requires those responsible to reconsider all training programs and anti-terrorism strategies,” he said.
Hassan Barari, a professor of political science at the University of Jordan, said that there were lessons to be learnt from the recent attacks.
“First, there is a consensus among Jordanians that the stability and security of the country is a top priority. The solidarity expressed by Jordanians is a statement of a strong domestic front, and this should be reinforced by sound policies by the government,” Barari said.
“Second, there is a pressing need to nip radicalism in the bud. We all know that there are some incubating environments for radicalism in at least three sites in Jordan. Given the gravity of the situation, the government should adopt a deradicalization strategy. True, the security approach is a key pillar for this strategy; yet, it is far from being sufficient,” he said.
He underlined that many young Jordanians were susceptible to radicalization due to their perception of the weakness of the current political reality and a lack of a stake in the political order, and it was time to admit that there was an ideological component to this that could not be confronted by force alone.
On Tuesday, King Abdullah visited the General Directorate of the Gendarmerie and the General Security Directorate, where he said: “We are not worried about the security of our country’s present and future. Our society rejects the extremist ideas and those carrying it and trying to force it on our society.”