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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

Palestine’s Mahmoud Sarsak ‘rejects’ FC Barcelona invite to match with Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit

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Palestinian prisoner Mahmoud al-Sarsak in Gaza City on 10 July 2012

(Wissam Nassar / ZUMA Press/Newscom)

Palestinian national footballer and hunger striker Mahmoud Sarsak has, according to several reports, rejected an invitation by the FC Barcelona football club to watch its El Clásico game against Real Madrid on 7 October, along with Israeli occupation soldier and ex-prisoner of war Gilad Shalit.

In a 27 September statement, FC Barcelona invited Sarsak, along with two Palestinian Authority officials, in a bid to placate the growing anger over the invitation to Shalit, which has been condemned by dozens of Palestinian football clubs and sporting associations, and by Palestine solidarity activists in Spain.

In response to the move, Sarsak told EI blogger Shahd Abusalama that he rejected the offer. After speaking to Sarsak this morning, Abusalama tweeted that Sarsak “told me his definite denial of going [to FC Barcelona’s] match if Shalit is there calling this normalization.”

Embedded rich on Twitter

Embedded rich on Twitter

Embedded rich on Twitter

Ma’an News Agency’s Arabic website also carries a report quoting Dr. Ramy Abdu, the Gaza manager of the Council for European Palestinian Relations, stating that he spoke personally to Sarsak who “confirmed” he would not attend the match “under any circumstances” and that he rejected any equivalence between his struggle and those of thousands of fellow prisoners on the one hand, with the situation of an occupation soldier, on the other. Abdu also posted his account of his conversation with Sarsak on Twitter and Facebook.

Embedded rich on Twitter

In a 28 September TV interview, Sarsak confirmed he had received the invitation and explained why he would not accept it.

FC Barcelona distances itself from Shalit

In a 27 September statement on its website, FC Barcelona responded to the uproar over Shalit, claiming, “The Club did not invite Mr. Shalit to the game, but accepted a request to watch a match during his visit to Barcelona.”

This apparent distancing came after senior club officials had told the media that the invitation to Shalit had come at the request of an Israeli ex-minister.

From the FC Barcelona statement:

In the same manner as Mr. Shalit’s request was accepted, the Club has also accepted the Palestinian embassy’s request to extend three invitations to three Palestinian delegates. Musa Amer Odeh, Palestinian Authority ambassador; Jibril Rajoub, President of the Palestinian Football Union, and the Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Al Sarsak will also watch the Clásico at the Camp Nou.

FC Barcelona’ attempt to draw an equivalence between Shalit, an occupation soldiers who was taken prisoner from a tank while enforcing Israel’s brutal and illegal blockade of Gaza, and Sarsak, who spent three years in detention and isolation without charge or trial by Israel until he forced Israel to free him after an epic three-month hunger strike, has backfired.

Normalization promotes “false symmetry and balance”

Moreover, apparently misunderstanding the nature of Palestinian objections to the Shalit invitation, the FC Barcelona statement went on to boast of joint activities it had organized by Israelis and Palestinians in the name of “peace and harmony”:

In addition, during the inauguration of La Masia. Centro de Formación Oriol Tort, last October, FC Barcelona - through its Foundation - contributed to the peace process between Israel and Palestine. A total of 31 children, 16 Palestinians and 15 Israelis, trained for the first time together with La Masia residents. The goal of the exercise was to cultivate an athletic relationship between the two groups.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) specifically rejects such initiatives. As PACBI explains in its guidelines:

Cultural events and projects involving Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis that promote “balance” between the “two sides” in presenting their respective narratives, as if on par, or are otherwise based on the false premise that the colonizers and the colonized, the oppressors and the oppressed, are equally responsible for the “conflict,” are intentionally deceptive, intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible.  Such events and projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or “reconciliation between the two sides” without addressing the requirements of justice, promote the normalization of oppression and injustice.

Update, 28 September: In TV interview, Mahmoud Sarsak confirms FC Barcelona Clasico invite, says he won’t attend with Shalit

Comments

For once, I beg to differ. While fully aware of the cruelty and moral corruption of the Israeli occupation - I was imprisoned for three months for refusing to serve the occupation back in 1979, and have never bought into any Israeli justification of this horrendous ongoing racist enterprise - I consider both Shalit and Sarsak as young men who paid a dear price for the very same occupation. Moreover, while agreeing that the effort to create "balance," between the oppressed and oppressor are usually sickening, FC Barcelona's initiatives, and most initiatives that bring young Israeli and Palestinian soccer players together, offer a glimpse of hope for future generations, since both peoples will, hopefully, eventually share the land equally. Furthermore, Israeli soccer is one place that often offers this very hope: I beg to remind you that only two seasons ago, Hapoel Tel Aviv won the "double," at the stadium of Beitar Jerusalem, the well known racist team of Jerusalem, whose diehard fans - in opposition to most Beitar fans - would never have an Arab on their team. Hapoel's beloved captain, who celebrated wildly - the winning goal was scored in extra time - is Walid Badeer whose grandfather was among the victims of the 1956 Kafr Kassem massacre. Soccer, and sports, can sometimes offer a glimpse of hope for different times.
Naturally, I write this a non-Zionist Israeli who only suffers indirectly from all the evils of the occupation in particular and Zionism in general, but my two cents say that Shalit too, is a victim, after spending so many years in complete isolation. Israel's disgusting policies should be confronted wherever possible, and I've personally as a citizen and musician have done my little best, but I'm not positive this is the best arena. That said, of course I respect Sarsak's decision, since I'm in no position whatsoever to criticize it.

Shalit gives up any claim to being a victim — plausible or otherwise — the moment he agrees to be part of Israeli state hasbara (propaganda), and that is what he has being doing for the past year. He has not attended all these events as an individual, but as part and parcel of Israel’s propaganda efforts. This is crucial.

That may be correct, even though google hasn't helped me in finding any such event. Still, if both Shalit and Sarsak were to be photographed together in a Barca game, I believe the effect would be to underline the grim price of the occupation, rather than any sort of "balance." Furthermore, as far as I know, apart from thanking those who helped sponsor his release, I'm not aware of any public "Zionist" deceleration on his part since his release, as any such utterance would present a field day for the "hasbara". Possibly, the only public side of his activities since his release, has been to go to sports events, since it turns out he always was an avid sports fan. I don't mind being corrected on this matter, but I still insist that even if he did take part in any "hasbara" event, he is nonetheless a victim of the occupation. No one should be subjected to over five years of solitary confinement without due medical treatment. And, again, even if he were to take part in any hasbara event, I would withhold judgement, considering what he has gone through. But then again, I sometimes tend to be overly patient when dealing with individuals who suffered what no human should suffer.

There's no plan for them to be photographed together, that's not a point. There's a lot of propaganda being spread about this story, people should try to stick with the facts.

Also, none was "invited" by the club, the club just accepted requests for them . So Sarsak can't "reject Barcelona's invitation". The Palestianian embassador asked for tickets for him, Barcelona gave the tickets to the embassador, so he's in fact rejecting the invitation of the Palestinian embassador.

Also this: "FC Barcelona has always wanted to promote peace and harmony in the Middle East. On July 21 of 2011, Mahmuod Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, was officially hosted at Club facilities during his visit to Barcelona. On that occasion, Mr. Abbas thanked “FC Barcelona for its hospitality,” and noted that “Barça is a Club that represents a civilization and a group of people with a great set of values.”"

he got to play vidya with his minders.
To put his incarceration on the same level as that of thousands of palestinian non-combatants in terms of serverity is to piss all over them.

There is no grey area, let it be clear, israel is not a country, Palestine is.

There may be non-zionists israelis in occupied palestine, this does not justify the illegal occupation. Any person or group supporting israel or zionism is an enemy to freedom everywhere.
While the occupation continues, we are all prisoners.

I condemn any one or any group or club that supports the zionist occupation of Palestine.

Chant down Babylon