The World Cup is less than a week away and the whole world is waiting impatiently for the matches to start. But there is one particular game that will not be played: Argentina against Israel in Jerusalem.
It’s still not clear who on the Argentinian side decided to cancel Saturday’s friendly in preparation for the World Cup.
Argentina’s players decided to pull out of the game “in solidarity” with superstar teammate Lionel Messi, Argentinian President Mauricio Macri said. Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie had said he believed his country’s footballers “were not willing to play the game”. Hugo Moyano, second vice president of Argentina’s Football Association, said it was the right thing to do, that it was “not worth it”.
The important thing is that the match was cancelled, much to the ire of Israeli officials who claimed there were threats sent to the players, including Messi and his family, under pressure from Palestinian protesters. There is no independent verification of these claims. Absent any documentation, the only answer is that the Israelis mixed politics with sport and this is why Argentina canceled the match.
The match was originally scheduled to be played in the Israeli city Haifa, however, the Israeli government made it clear it wanted the match to be played in Jerusalem. Why? Was it to prove Donald Trump’s point that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, at least in his eyes? If anything, Argentina was right in not wanting to play in Jerusalem to prove that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel, as in the eyes of almost the entire international community. By wanting to play against Argentina in Jerusalem, Israel was attempting to mislead Argentinians and the rest of the world by having them believe that it is perfectly normal to play in occupied Palestinian territory. The change in venue was an attempt to legitimize Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem.
There is nothing friendly about playing in Jerusalem, when just miles away Israeli snipers were and continue to shoot unarmed protesters, many killed during the inauguration of the US embassy move to Jerusalem. Argentina would have been seen as callous and insensitive had it agreed to play, as if the killing of at least 120 Palestinians and the injury to thousands more was simply a nuisance; background noise.
On another note, if the match had been played in Teddy Kollek Stadium in West Jerusalem, it would have been played on the site of a Palestinian village in Jerusalem destroyed by Jewish paramilitary forces in 1948 when 750,000 Palestinians – half the Palestinian population – were ethnically cleansed from their lands to make way for the creation of the state of Israel.
Argentine team manager Jorge Sampaoli expressed disappointment at having to play in Israel, saying he would have preferred to play in Barcelona where the national team is currently based for the pre-tournament training. Actually, Argentina could have played Israel anywhere in the world; nobody would have cared. But not in Jerusalem. That city is disputed and nothing, not even a benign football match, should be played there, for it implies recognition of Israel’s control and self-described sovereignty over the city.
Israel did not qualify for the World Cup. Argentina is going and as usual is one of the favorites to lift the trophy. So the cancellation of the game is much more detrimental to Argentina than Israel. But as much as Argentina needed to play the game, its last before the World Cup, it would have meant a team of such high stature as Argentina helping Israel underpin its fictional claim to Jerusalem.
Thus on the football field, chalk up a win for Palestine against Israel.
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