Departing starkly from messages of peace and coexistence expressed by Israeli President Shimon Peres as he welcomed the Barcelona FC soccer team on Sunday, Fatah official and Palestinian Soccer Association head Jibril Rajoub took advantage of “the most important event in the history of Palestinian sports” to call for a sports boycott of Israel.
Speaking to journalists at the entrance to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Saturday, Rajoub said that sports were the best means to combat racism. He then proceeded to call for a sports ban on Israel, which “incites against anything Arab.”
Rajoub dubbed the visit of Barcelona FC “the first breach in the history by the Palestinian sports movement of the siege laid on it by Israel.”
Barcelona FC, considered one of the best soccer teams in the world, kicked off a two-day “peace tour” of the region on Saturday with a soccer clinic for local Palestinian children at Dura Stadium in the West Bank. Lionel Messi and newly signed Brazilian footballer Neymar were among the star players on hand for the trip.
“It is a contribution to peace, as you have rightly called it, a ‘Peace Tour,’” Peres told them on Sunday. “You came just on time. Our prime minister and his government began a ‘tour of peace’ between us and the Palestinians, which is an important and timely decision. I want to thank Barca for making the dreams of the children come true. Israeli and Palestinian children dream of two goals — scoring the winning goal at Camp Nou and the great goal of peace.”
Turning to the players, Peres added, “Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, you and the whole team can teach us and the Palestinians to play Tiki-Taka so we can score the goal we all hope for — the goal of peace.”
Barcelona team president Sandro Rosell said the visit was intended to help “both Israelis and Palestinians, to find meeting points to help you along the road to peace.”
But Rajoub, it seemed, had other ideas in mind.
At a press conference in Ramallah last Wednesday, he told journalists that he had withstood immense pressure to produce a joint photo of Israeli and Palestinian players with the Catalan team.
“You have no idea what pressure was placed on me so that a photo emerge with Shlomo, Muhammad and Messi. We insisted that the photo include Messi and Muhammad. Shlomo — [representing] this occupation — will not be present that day, only Barcelona and the Palestinians.
“We are not racist, we are realists. We will not give this occupation a fig leaf with which to cover its nudity, to cover its crimes against the Palestinian people and especially against the Palestinian sports movement,” Rajoub said.
He went on to elaborate Israel’s curtailing of Palestinian freedoms, including the freedom of movement of players and administrators, preventing the establishment of Palestinian sports facilities, and blocking international experts from entering the Palestinian territories.
“All these issues… made it impossible for us to permit any joint activities with the symbols of our suffering and pain, the Israeli occupation.”
Back in May, the Palestinians vetoed an exhibition match planned to take place between a joint Israeli-Palestinian team and Barcelona FC.
Debra Kamin and Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report