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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

In interview, Mahmoud Sarsak confirms FC Barcelona Clasico invite, says he won’t attend with Shalit

السرسك يؤكد للكتاب : لن أحضر الكلاسيكو بوجود شاليط

Palestinian footballer, hunger striker and former prisoner Mahmoud Sarsak has confirmed that he has received an invitation to attend the 7 October Clasico match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid amid a continuing uproar over an invitation to Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to attend the same match.

“A short time ago I spoke on the telephone with the Palestinian ambassador [in Spain] and the head of the Palestinian Football Federation Mr. Jibril Rajoub, and they informed me of this invitation officially,” Sarsak told the Al-Kitab satellite TV station on Friday.

Asked whether he would accept, Sarsak said, “It is a great honor and it is a victory for a Palestinian prisoner and for the Palestinian cause and a victory for our principles and stances that a prisoner who is at the same time an athlete should go out and expain the suffering of his people. But in the presence of the soldier Gilad Shalit on the same stands, I will refuse this invitation.”

Sarsak said that Shalit, as an occupation soldier, had participated in violence and destruction against Palestinians in Gaza: “his slogan is the gun, whereas mine is football, whose message is love and peace. For this reason I will refuse.”

Sarsak acknowledged FC Barcelona’s position that it had not invited Shalit, but that the club had merely accepted a request for him to view the match. Spanish media – citing club sources – have reported that an Israeli ex-minister asked the club to invite Shalit.

Nevetheless, Sarsak expressed concern about the circumstances in which the subsequent invitation to him had been announced and how his presence – at the same time as Shalit – could be interpreted: “I know that the invitation was issued after heavy pressure on FC Barcelona so that it could get out of its dilemma, but the Palestinian people are not and will not be a means for [others] to get out of their dilemmas.”

Attending the match “could reflect negatively on the Palestinian cause” Sarsak said, “especially when the western media or Israeli media view it as an invitation to normalization. Let us note especially that in the fourth paragraph of the invitation, is a call for ‘peace and harmony,’ which indicates a certain policy of normalization.”

This was an apparent reference to the 27 September statement on the official FC Barcelona website that announced the invitation to Sarsak.

“I cherish the invitation of a great club like Barcelona,” Sarsak said, “but not in the same match, and if it were ever in the same match I would never meet [Shalit], because this is an invitation for normalization.”

Sarsak spent three years in Israeli captivity without charge or trial until he forced Israel to release him last June with a three-month hunger strike that brought him to the edge of death.

The Shalit invitation has prompted strong opposition from Palestine solidarity groups, such as BDS Catalunya, and was condemned by dozens of Palestinian football clubs, athletes and sports organizations.

Comments

No such thing as a Palestinian ambassador, he means PLO. The PLO does not represent the Palestinian people.

Oday Shahin, there was no mention of an ambassador of Palestine.

All that this proves is that Sarsak and the Palestinians are against peace and negotiations under any circumstances. All this furore about Shalit's invitation just shows that the Palestinians have no interest or simply aren't capable of peace. A completely unwise position.

Giving "normalcy" of relations with the illegal arrest of anyone is not good. It would be terribly hard for anyone to be jailed without charge for three years to forgive even one soldier of the IOF let alone a whole government that steals a man's future. Not just his but thousands of others imprisoned for no reason other than being Palestinian.

Negotiations? Have you read The Palestine Papers? First of all, the Palestinians have NOTHING to negotiate with. Secondly, how can a people who has nothing "negotiate" with an all-powerful oppressor? What percentage of land is there left to "negotiate" over? It's simple really, and not nearly as "complicated" as is often stated: Israel should abide by International Law. Nothing more, nothing less.

If it's true that Gilat Shalit's father said that if he were a Palestinian, then HE would kidnap an Israeli soldier, then it is clear that Shalit learned a lot from his time in captivity. This is why we haven't heard much of him since his release; he won't say the things that the Israelis want him to say. He's obviously being used for their propaganda purposes in a different way, as this request to attend the Nou Camp shows. Having said this, I did of course sign the petition against the visit, since Israeli hasbara must be challenged wherever it rears its ugly head.

Dear Electronic Intifada,

I think that Captain Sarsak should accept the invitation. By doing this, he will get the chance to say that he is a footballer and that Shalit is a Nazi soldier. He can also refuse to shake hands with him and if he can even call him a murderer. Captain Sarsak will achieve a lot more by doing this.

Declining this invitation will only give the chance for Shalit to advertise his "case", while at the same time there will be no competent response from our side.

Regards,

Amer Saabi

Barcelona are not looking for any photo of them together, they won't get seats next to each other, this is no media show. Barcelona just had requests for tickets for both (like they have requests for hundreds, thousands of tickets, it's not that it's just about these two cases) and accepted both requests. Barcelona probably just accepted both requests without knowing who the ticket exactly was for, based upon who made the requests. Shalit's ticket was apparently asked by the paper he works for, so if a paper asks for a ticket, Barcelona couldn't know who it was for. They thought it was just a journalist.

As I’ve reported, Spanish media have quoted club officials saying that the invitation to Shalit was issued after an approach to the club from an Israeli ex-minister and that Shalit would be seated in the presidential box. In other words he would be there as a VIP. It’s simply not credible to suggest that they didn’t know who he was especially since he has one of the most recognizable and heavily publicized names in recent history.

Second, regardless of whether they planned for Sarsak and Shalit to meet or be photographed together — and I’ve seen no report that they did — the relevant fact is that FC Barcelona linked the two men in their 27 September “peace and harmony” press release which announced the invitation to Sarsak and which was clearly designed to deflect anger by creating “balance”