FC Barcelona invites Palestinians to Madrid match after Gilad Shalit row
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sidetracking "El Clásico," a game normally known for featuring the world's biggest stars.
September 28th, 2012
03:46 PM ET

FC Barcelona invites Palestinians to Madrid match after Gilad Shalit row

It's not often a sporting event can stoke the tensions of one of the world's longest-running conflicts, but news that an ex-prisoner and Israeli soldier would attend a Spanish soccer match next month did just that.

Gilad Shalit, who was freed in October 2011 after more than five years as a Palestinian prisoner, is expected to attend next month's "El Clásico," a match between Spanish powerhouses FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. This game, which will be played at Barcelona's Camp Nou on October 7, is one of the world's biggest rivalries.

Despite several reports that Barcelona had extended the invitation to Shalit, the club announced in a Thursday statement that wasn't the case.

Gilad Shalit is expected to attend next month's soccer match between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

"The Club did not invite Mr. Shalit to the game, but accepted a request to watch a match during his visit to Barcelona," the statement said.

Barcelona said it also accepted a Palestinian Embassy request that three of its delegates - Palestinian Authority Ambassador Musa Amer Odeh, Palestinian Football Union President Jibril Rajoub and soccer player and activist Mahmoud Sarsak - be invited to the game.

Though the club statement said the three would attend, the Palestinian-run blog, The Electronic Intifada, cited two reports saying that Sarsak would reject the invitation.

Sarsak was freed from an Israeli prison in June following a three-month hunger strike. The player's refusal to eat prompted Amnesty International to issue a statement saying Sarsak should be released or provided with medical treatment.

There has been no statement from Sarsak regarding the Barcelona invitation, even on his Twitter feed. However, a blogger who is frequently retweeted by Sarsak has said that she spoke to Sarsak, and he confirmed the news that he would not be attending the game.

When news of Shalit's attendance first broke, there was backlash in Gaza. FC Barcelona is sponsored by The Qatar Foundation and Turkish Airlines and is enormously popular in the Palestinian territories, but Hamas, which governs Gaza, said it would not permit TV stations to air Barcelona games or papers to report team news.

Al Arabiya further reported that Hama radio station in Gaza had stopped broadcasting team updates and that a Spain-based anti-Israeli group, BDS Catalunya, had organized a petition calling for Barcelona to revoke the invitation. It garnered 600 to 650 signatures, depending on the news report.

“We are also surprised to see your club express so much friendship and sympathy towards the only Israeli soldier to be imprisoned in recent years as a result of this conflict while, at the same time, maintaining absolute silence about the 4,660 Palestinian prisoners now confined in Israeli prisons," the petition said, according to the International Business Times.

FC Barcelona moved quickly to assert that it was not taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The club's Thursday statement carried the headline, "FC Barcelona, for peace and harmony in the Middle East," and club vice president Carles Vilarrubí told an Israeli website, “Barcelona is a place of unity, not divisions. This invitation [to Shalit] does not indicate in any way that Barca takes a position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The club also noted in its Thursday statement that it had hosted Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a visit to Barcelona last summer. It also said that 16 Palestinian and 15 Israeli children had trained together last year at La Masia, which houses Barcelona's revered youth system, as part of the team's efforts to contribute to the peace process.

"The goal of the exercise was to cultivate an athletic relationship between the two groups," the statement said.

Shalit is a well-known sports fan. Since emerging from captivity - during which he reportedly beat his minders routinely at PlayStation soccer - he has attended a Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game and the NBA All-Star Game in Orlando, Florida.

The Miami Herald reported in June that Shalit attended the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder as a correspondent for the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahranot.

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Filed under: Human rights • Israel • Palestinians • Soccer • Sports • World
soundoff (180 Responses)
  1. Philip

    We'll see what your god's little helpers say about this. Not likely will the Israeli MOSSAD be applauding Spain today.

    September 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. @ Philip

    Just can't stand to see anyone happy, huh?

    September 28, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. @@Philip

    Palestinains are NOT happy. Get a clue.
    Resting in Peace is Rachell Corrie, US citizen slain by a donated Caterpillar brand bulldozer in broad daylight.
    Remember the USS Liberty!
    Remember Yitzhak Shamir was a TERRORIST!
    And remember when God was with Israel, a little jew boy only needed a slrike fear in the hearts of God's enemies.

    September 28, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • talkic.com

      "a little jew boy"? Way to use your hate of Israel to not so subtly cover your hate of Jewish people. Rachel Corrie was a tragedy created by the left and ignorant.

      September 28, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Vincy

    Best of luck to this young man after enduring such hardship.

    September 28, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. @@Philip

    ...and remember even now as we chat blog, Israel's government is trying to drag US to WAR on the Iranian peoples!
    Don't get played by your preacherman! Your donations to Israel pay for his mansions anyway. Open your eyes! The israeli government are war mongers! The Israeli Supreme court are NOT YOUR JUDGES.

    September 28, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. BOMBO ©

    I actually don't understand how the Palestinians – or anyone else – could have a problem with a kidnap victim attending a soccer game in Spain. This is unbelievably moronic. We'll add it to the list of confusing and irritating things that come out of the Islamic world. Now go invade an embassy and burn down a UNICEF office.

    September 28, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • J

      Let me explain: the muslims are doing their all to create anti-Semitic hatred of Jews throughout the world. It's called, "Judenrun" It could have been any Jewish person from Israel. Remember how some Arab countries refused to participate in events Israel participated in? Don't forget it was the muslims who assisted Hitler in the extermination of the Jews, gays, gypsies and anyone else they felt didn't deserve life.

      September 28, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BOMBO ©

    But Philip seems to understand. Shouldn't that be a red flag to sane people? Remember the rule of thumb, if you disagree with Philip then you are probably right.

    September 28, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. @@Philip

    This blog is one of the few places most of our voiices get heard clear accross the nation. These are your opportunities to SPEAK OUT against injustice, war mongering, plight of the Palestinian peoples, etc etc etc.
    Why waste your voice will little stippety microblogs that say NOTHING?

    September 28, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. BOMBO ©

    Yeah. How dare that Gilad Shalit....um....get kidnapped and held against his will for years...and um...starved and beaten...yeah...how dare he do that stuff. As punishment he should never ever be allowed to watch a soccer game in Spain. Because if he did, that would be an insult to the Palestinians. Somehow. Yup, makes perfect sense.

    September 28, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Philip

    @BOMBO. that sounds like a challenge. Would you care to debate with your mouth, or just flap it AT me? (and rememner, the topic of 'Philip' is off topic)

    September 28, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. BOMBO ©

    Focus Philip. This is about a young man who was brutalized by criminals getting a chance to see a sports event. It's not about anything else.

    September 28, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Philip

    Big Picture, BOMBO. Shall we debate Irael being a law breaking warmonger or do you stand down?

    September 28, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. BOMBO ©

    Unless anyone can prove to me that a victim of a violent crime doesn't deserve to see a soccer match, I'm done with this thread. Note to Palestinian officials – you are coming off as a bunch of whiney little brats. Grow up. DONE.

    September 28, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Philip

    ...and then there are "The Muslims" who are doing what any red-blooded American would be doing if America were invaded and occupied...with Americas oil flowing to foreign nations as Americans go without...DEFENDING THEIR HOMELAND FROM THE INVADERS.
    I.E.D. my ass. If Colorado were militarily invaded and occupied by a foreign peoples, you should see what a 12 yr. old farmboy can do with a pail of diesel fuel and a bag of prelled ammonium nitrate. (fertilizer)
    If the show was on the other foot, we would wear it just like them [true muslims not siding w/invading infidels].

    September 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. actually

    Ariel Sharon, George W. Bush, and the Israeli MOSSAD have done more to incite anti-semetic sentiment than Nazi Nayer AG did when they developed Zylon-B odorless jew exterminator gas as Germans cheered.
    "Everyone knew about the camps."-Oskar Schindler (Shindlers List)

    September 28, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      In fact in Senator Grah's book "Intellengence Matters" he says of Bush "its as if his loyalities lay more with Saudi Arabia than the safety of Americia."

      September 28, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
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