Palestine football chief Rajoub banned over Messi comments

Rajoub asked fans to burn Messi shirts and pictures after Argentina were due to play a friendly in Israel.

President of the Palestinian FA Jibril Rajoub [AFP]
FIFA said Rajoub's call amounted to incitement of 'hatred and violence' [AFP]

The president of the Palestinian Football Association has been banned by FIFA after he urged fans to burn Lionel Messi shirts and pictures earlier this year.

The call by Jibril Rajoub earlier this year was part of a campaign to prevent Argentina playing in Israel in a tie he and many Palestinians complained would be used as a “political tool” by the Israelis.

In a statement published on Friday, world football’s governing body said Rajoub’s call amounted to incitement of “hatred and violence”.

“The 12-month match suspension imposed on Mr Rajoub entails a ban on taking part in any future match or competition taking place during the given period,” said FIFA in a statement.

“Consequently, Mr Rajoub will not be able to attend football matches or competitions in any official capacity, which includes, among others, participating in media activities at stadiums or in their vicinity on matchdays.”

He was also fined $20,000 by FIFA.

Israeli authorities moved the match to Jerusalem from its original venue of Haifa, which further angered Palestinians.

The match was set to be played at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, built on land that once belonged to a Palestinian village that was destroyed in 1948, the year Israel was established.

The change of venue came at a particularly sensitive time, after US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, infuriating Palestinians who want the eastern part of the city as the capital of their own future state.

In response to punishment, the Palestinian FA said the sanction was excessive and that it “went beyond the alleged offence”.

“It imposed the maximum punishment for an accusation that wasn’t proven,” said the Palestinian FA.

It also cast doubt on the validity of the complaint lodged by the Israeli FA which it called a “third party that is in active conflict with the Palestinian FA” and said that neither Messi nor the Argentinian FA had acted on the matter.

Speaking in June, Rajoub said: “He [Messi] is a big symbol so we are going to target him personally and we call on all to burn his picture and his shirt and to abandon him”.

“We still hope that Messi will not come.”

The decision by Argentina to play the friendly fixture at the venue sparked an intense campaign, which drew in international and local support.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, said there was nothing “friendly” about the game and Palestinian footballers, targeted by the Israeli military, also added to calls for the Argentinian side to cancel its involvement.

“I call on the Argentinian team and especially captain Lionel Messi – because he is very popular in Palestine, particularly in the Gaza Strip – to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and to boycott the scheduled game with Israel, which is occupying our land,” said Palestinian footballer Mohammed Khalil.

An Israeli sniper shot Khalil in both legs during a protest in Gaza on March 30, putting an end to his footballing career.

Argentina later withdrew from the game. 

Source: Al Jazeera