Hamas on Thursday announced a media boycott of Barcelona after the leader of the Spanish soccer league gave a complimentary ticket for an upcoming match to Gilad Shalit, the former Israeli soldier who was held captive by militants in the Gaza Strip.
Shalit was returned home last October under an Israel-Palestinian prisoner exchange deal.
Despite complaints by pro-Palestinian activists in Spain, Barcelona FC confirmed Wednesday that it had invited the former Hamas captive to attend the team’s upcoming El Clasico match against national rival Real Madrid.
Hamas official Attallah Abu Al Subah said that, as of Thursday, no TV station in Gaza would broadcast Barcelona matches and no papers in the coastal strip will write about the club.
Shalit will get to see some of the world’s best soccer players, including Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo and Andrés Iniesta from right next to the pitch, as the club’s guest in the October 7 face off.
“Barcelona is a place of unity not divisions,” club vice president Carles Vilarrubí told reporters. “This invitation does not indicate in any way that Barca takes a position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
According to the Palestinian advocacy website Electronic Intifada, more than 650 people have signed a petition addressed to Barcelona president Sandro Rosell, opposing the invitation.
“We understand that this is a gesture of good will by the club towards a person who has suffered five long years of captivity in the Gaza Strip and who has made known his admiration for the Barcelona team,” the petition stated. “However, the former soldier Gilad Shalit is not just an Israeli citizen; he’s also a Sergeant Major of the Israel Defense Forces, an army that since 1967 has illegally occupied the Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza strip and the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights.”
A source in the Israeli Embassy in Spain told Israel Hayom that the opposition to Shalit’s visit was driven by a fringe group of people motivated by hatred of Israel and does not reflect the country’s general population.
“We regret that these elements are turning Shalit, who for many was and remains a symbol of an important humanitarian issue, to a target for their poisonous darts. We are certain that the team and its fans will welcome him warmly,” said the source.
Shalit was released in a prisoner exchange with Hamas last October after nearly five years in Hamas captivity. He is well known for his love of sports, speaking in interviews about how news of his favorite teams helped him get through hard times. In June, he was signed on as a sports columnist by the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth.