Lionel Messi urged to boycott Tel Aviv “friendly” over Gaza strikes

Man on football field raises his arms above his head

Argentina national team player Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal for his club side Barcelona during a Spanish league match against Real Madrid, in Barcelona, 6 May 2018.

Joan Gosa Xinhua

Palestinians are urging the national football teams of Argentina and Uruguay to cancel their “friendly” match in Tel Aviv scheduled for 18 November.

Barcelona superstars Lionel Messi of Argentina and Luis Suárez of Uruguay are expected to join their national squads for the game.

The match would be played just days after Israel escalated its lethal attacks on Gaza, leaving more than 30 Palestinians dead since Tuesday morning.

Israeli forces have killed eight Palestinian children since their bombardment of the Gaza Strip started.

Eight members of the al-Sawarka family were killed in an Israeli airstrike on their home in the central Gaza Strip town of Deir al-Balah, early Thursday:

Palestinians are calling on the teams not to help Israel whitewash its massacres of Palestinians.

“There’s nothing ‘friendly’ about Israel bombing two million Palestinians it holds under siege in Gaza, killing 26, including three children,” PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, stated.

The number of Palestinians killed in Gaza has risen since.

Palestinian football team joins calls

The Khadamat Rafah club, based in Gaza, wrote a letter to both teams last month urging them to cancel the match.

“We are asking you not to allow the beautiful game to be used as cover for gross human rights violations,” the team wrote.

“Israel wants to use your worldwide standing to help sports-wash its crimes and bolster its failing image.”

Earlier this year, Israel denied Khadamat Rafah permission to travel to the occupied West Bank for a Palestine Cup match.

The FIFA-recognized competition was set to determine which team will represent Palestine in the Asian Champions League.

“The 2019 Palestine Cup was canceled. Throughout it all, FIFA remained silent,” the team stated.

Activists demonstrated outside the headquarters of Argentina’s football association in Buenos Aires this week, demanding the cancellation of the Tel Aviv match.

Protesters also rallied as Messi and Suárez trained at their Barcelona grounds last week, urging them not to play in Tel Aviv.

PACBI said that civil society groups in both countries are mobilizing to stop the match.

Previous win

When Israel is not barring Palestinian athletes from competing nationally and internationally, it habitually injures, disables, maims and kills them.

Argentina’s national squad heeded calls from Palestinians to cancel a friendly match against Israel in Jerusalem last year.

At the time, Palestinian football player Muhammad Khalil Obeid urged the Argentinian team to cancel the match in a direct appeal to team captain Messi.

“He is very popular in Palestine, particularly in the Gaza Strip,” Obeid said.

Israeli snipers shot Obeid in both knees during rallies near the Gaza-Israel boundary on 30 March 2018, ending a promising football career.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.