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. Mary

    Or is it the mere mention of what America's precious Israel has done that you delete

    September 29, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mary

    In the words of "The Unforgiven"
    "We all have it coming"

    September 29, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ben

    i was a big fan of barca but when i heard the news i was shocked that they will invite a terrorist soldier from the rogue zionist appartheid state that occupies arab lands and build settlments over palestinian homes schools and olive fields after they destroy it. now millions of arab fans will hate fc barca and boycott this arrogant club we'll demand qatar to cancel the qatar foundation contract with this zionist club. free palestine and free catalania.

    September 29, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liberty Spinner

      Ben the Palestianians in prison are there for terrorist acts. Shalit was captured while on duty as a soldier. Ben I hope all your sons are captured and you then will have the joy and sorrow of waiting for them to come out alive, if it is possible.
      Shalit was captured in order to secure release of terrorist. You are an uneducated man. Go to the West Bank and see for yourself a really thriving and well ordered society put together by the citizens rather than the government. It is functioning, cultured and full of the same kinds of experiences any middle class to upper middle class society has. The ones who stay in the camps don't want to join the normal functioning economically sound society which exists in the West Bank.

      September 29, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mary

    @ Jay jay, That's called passing the buck onto OUR backs. WTG Obama !
    4 more yrs!
    See Bushco fall !!!!!!
    Woo Hoo

    September 29, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mary

    Lol, Loyal till the end, eh
    Cut the crap Banasy. The only reason you care is it'll make YOU look bad after posting so many glowing remarks about Obama. He's just the Messenger of the Powers behind the curtain.

    September 29, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. How bogus is that?

    Speaking of lapdogs Mary, havent you been Philips lapdog since you gave up being a drunk? You dont have a single thought in that head that you can call your own and not be lying about it! Ive been listening to the both of you for years and its nauseating!

    September 29, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mary

    The lady has spoken! 😉 But we know better, don't we? lol

    September 29, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mary

    @ How bogus is that?, I would say presenting thought provoking questions along with found answers from that presenter is NOT making a "lapdog" out of anyone.
    I for one do not agree with everything he or anyone else says for that matter.
    When I do question him, he gives even MORE hard evidence and undisputable concrete logic to boot!
    Now really good nite all

    Btw Banasy, I was just having fun with you. ok? 🙂 Gn WOMEN!

    September 29, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. banasy©

    You insult me and run?
    Totally didn't see *that* coming...(she says, voice dripping with sarcasm)
    Grow up.

    September 29, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. How bogus is that?

    Oh? No goodnight to us men? Thats ok.

    September 29, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. banasy©

    Yeah, okay.

    September 29, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mary

    Ok! Then hear this!
    You are SOOOOOOOO Whipped! by the things of this world.
    And if you want your just rewards now, you shall have them.
    Pay NO attention to what God has to offer, as you barely if at all spell out his name!
    Rather you repeat the Reguritated "I am a spiritual person or I have my spiritual beliefs"
    For all the books and literature you read, I've noticed you can barely explain any scripture.
    GOOD NIte and I will leave for the evening as this is NOT my life (these blogs) ty

    September 29, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Mouse in pocket syndrome?
      Who are you talking to?

      September 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mary

    Btw, The day you can go toe to toe with Philip with regards to the Bible... I will apologize on the spot!

    September 29, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Again...shades of "Shawshank Redemption" comes to mind...
      What was that little mouse's name that lived in that man's shadow/pocket?

      September 29, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay jay

      Mr jangles. Lol

      September 29, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Thanks, Jay jay, lol.

      September 29, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Philip and the Huns

    You gals knock it off.Mmmm K huns? he he
    Interstingly, LMAO, the name of my JHS homeroom intermural basletaball team was Philip and the Huns. (back to back champs) Acourse The Huns were a germanic tribe of barbarians who kicked Rome's ass on many occassion. Well whatayaknow. You gals are the Huns after all! That, if'n I be Rome. 🙂

    September 29, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Philip

    What is a winnowing shovel?

    September 29, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • dazzle ©

      @Philip, that's a rhetorical question!

      September 29, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
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