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Messi and Suarez urged not to ‘cash in’ on Israeli apartheid

Palestinians call on the football stars to cancel their international friendly in Tel Aviv

PALESTINIANS and human rights activists have urged two of football’s biggest stars, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, not to cash in on the “greatest moral issue of our time” by playing a friendly match in Israel. 

The Argentina and Uruguay national football teams have confirmed that they will play a friendly match in Israel on November 18. 

The classic South American rivalry, known as the Silver River Classic (Clasico del Rio de la Plata), has pitted the two teams against each other for over 100 years and, with close to 200 matches to date, is the most played international derby in the sport. 

Last year, Argentina cancelled a friendly match in Jerusalem following letters from Palestinians, a huge outpouring on social media and actions on the ground in Buenos Aires and in Barcelona where the team was training.

Alia Malak of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) said that playing the match while the Israeli government continues its brutal oppression of the Palestinians would sully the beautiful game. 

“Like much of the world, Palestinians love football,” Ms Malak said.  

“Holding a ‘friendly’ match between two beloved teams in Israel while it continues its decades-long illegal military occupation and apartheid regime that denies Palestinians, including athletes, their basic human rights is an affront to football fans in Palestine and across the world.

“Israel has bombed Palestinian sports stadiums, detained, imprisoned, maimed and killed Palestinian athletes, raided Palestinian sports associations and destroyed playing fields.

“Holding international sporting events in Israel amounts to sports-washing its grave violations of Palestinian human rights, as it allows Israel to use the prestige of championship athletes to cover up its ongoing crimes.

“Judging by the hoops the Argentina and Uruguay football associations have jumped through to make this match happen, including Argentina cancelling an already scheduled match with Paraguay, they are in it for the money. 

“Along with that cash reward, however, comes being shamefully complicit in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. Is this bribery really worth it?

“Celebrated US football players have refused to allow their fame to be used by Israel to cover up its attacks on Palestinian sports and life.

“Argentina and Uruguay players, including stars Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, must use their influence to stop this match in Israel before their teams end up in the permanent record of history books as those who instead cashed in on what Nelson Mandela called the ‘greatest moral issue of our time’.”

The Gaza Strip Premier League title winners AlKhadamat Rafah FC wrote an open letter to the teams last month asking them not to allow Israel to “sportswash” its human rights abuses. 

“Israeli army fire has killed over 200 Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza and injured tens of thousands. Among them were athletes with promising careers, including 23-year-old football player Mohammad Khalil Obeid, who filmed himself being shot in both knees by an Israeli sniper. We have a football team of amputees who insist on playing despite their life-changing injuries.

“And now Israel is working diligently to host a match between two beloved teams in order to help keep its dreadful human rights record on the sidelines. Israel wants to use your worldwide standing to help sports-wash its crimes and bolster its failing image.

“We are asking you not to allow that to happen. We are asking you not to allow the beautiful game to be used as cover for gross human rights violations. We are asking you to stand with Palestinian footballers in our struggle for the right to live and play. At the very least, we are asking you to do no harm. Playing in Israel would significantly harm us and our struggle for freedom, justice and equality.

“Please don’t play this match. Just as in the case of apartheid South Africa, there is nothing friendly about Israeli apartheid.”

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