While Israeli and Palestinian leaders sit down with American negotiators for peace talks in Washington, here in the Middle East Israelis and Palestinians are holding their own events for peace this week with the Barcelona Football Club.
FC Barcelona, 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 are among the star players on hand for the trip.
On Sunday evening, a similar event will be held for Israeli children at the Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa, with up 12,000 pint-sized punters expected to flood the stadium in a bid to pass the ball back and forth with some of the best soccer players in the world.
President Shimon Peres, who personally invited the team to Israel, will then kick the first ball to open a “peace match” between the professional footballers and a team of children.
Earlier on Sunday, the Barcelona players were hosted at Peres’s official residence in Jerusalem in a welcome reception that included Netanyahu, Education Minister Shai Piron and Minister for Sport and Culture Limor Livnat.
“It is a contribution to peace, as you have rightly called it, a ‘Peace Tour’,” Peres said. “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.”
Said Netanyahu: “My hope is to see good football games, to have peace and security and to have one percent of your fan base, they have 300 billion, 1 percent visit this great site and this great country. That would help our economy and it would help peace as well.”
The President of FC Barcelona, Sandro Rosell, said in his remarks that, “We have come to this land to strengthen our bonds of friendship and help you, both Israelis and Palestinians, to find meeting points to help you along the road to peace. We are doing this with all the humility in the world, but in the knowledge that Barça is one of things that both communities have in common, for as they have told us, we are the most popular foreign team in both Israel and Palestine. This makes us feel very proud, but at the same time legitimizes our cause and encourages us to help you towards this goal.
“This is a historic moment for us, and could not have come at a better time, coinciding as it does with the reopening of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington,” he added. “We know that the road to peace through dialogue is a long one and that it will be full of obstacles, but it is a worthwhile objective. Your future is also the world’s future, and that is why we all want this road to lead you to success.”