BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona invited three Palestinians to attend the Oct. 7 match against Real Madrid in response to Hamas calling for a media boycott of the club after it gave a complimentary ticket to Gilad Shalit, the former Israeli soldier who was held captive for nearly five years in the Gaza Strip.
Barcelona announced in a statement that it had accepted the Palestinian embassy’s request for tickets for footballer Mahmoud Al Sarsak, who was held in an Israeli jail for three years until being released this year following a hunger strike, along with the president of the Palestinian Football Union Jibril Rajoub and the Palestinian Authority ambassador.
According to the Palestinian advocacy website Electronic Intifada, more than 650 people had signed a petition addressed to Barcelona president Sandro Rosell, opposing Shalit’s 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.