We, Palestinian footballers, athletes and sporting organizations and officials, are dismayed to learn the great team of Barcelona will host Gilad Shalit to the Clasico, Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, on October 7th, while more than 5000 Palestinian political prisoners remain rotting, many in isolation, many with no visits, many on hunger strike with no attention or care for them to be released.
Palestinian national footballer Mahmoud Sarsak was released from prison by Israel only after a 95 day hunger strike
Sign petition calling on F.C. Barcelona not to host Shalit here.
The arbitrary arrest of thousands of Palestinians, including Gazan Palestinian National Team football star Mahmoud Kamel As-Sarsak, who was held without trial or indeed public explanation for the arrest, is a routine tool of Israeli occupation. Mahmoud was only released after a 95 day hunger strike. Many others are in Israeli prison on hunger strike as we write, some close to death. Mahmoud Sarsek lost 3 years of his football career and nearly died while protesting with the only means possible to him. He deserves to be hosted!
Joseph S. Blatter, President of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), has expressed “grave concern” towards Israeli practices and its restrictions on Palestinian players, especially those incarcerated in Israeli prisons, or banned from assembling for the national team. And Michele Platini said, “Israel must choose between allowing Palestinian sport to continue and prosper or be forced to face the consequences for their behaviour.”
The Israeli illegal military occupation of Palestine and the five- year siege on Gaza has suffocated the aspirations of Palestinian sports men, women and youth for decades. So where are the consequences? Political support for Israel’s practices by hosting one of the Israel Occupation Force soldiers from one of the world’s greatest clubs?!
More Palestinians in Gaza support Barcelona than any other club, especially among children who make up the majority of the population. We, in Gaza, have all been through so much under a hermetic siege, regular bombardments, and frequent incursions. The use of overwhelming force in Operation Cast Lead in winter 2008-09 was responsible for levelling large swathes of Gaza including the Rafah National football Stadium, and killing football players Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshate, as well as over 1,400 other Gazans. National team goalkeeper, Omar Abu Rwayyis, was arrested by Israeli police in 2012 on “terrorism charges,” a label used for people whose life was football, not politics. Many times the Palestinian team could not assemble, train or participate in tournaments because of Israeli illegal restrictions on player movement.
Our footballers are continually deprived entry or exit from what many main-stream Human Rights Organizations call the world’s largest open-air prison. .You must be aware of the example last year when Israel refused to allow six members of the Palestinian national team to travel from Gaza to a match against Mauritania. Like everyone stranded in Gaza, Israeli spokesmen said the players were denied access for “security reasons”, claiming they did not have the correct permit, reminiscent of the notorious racist “pass law” in Apartheid South Africa. This is a continuous systematic policy for all of us that has decimated our involvement in international sport. The uncertainties from refused permissions to leave and enter the Strip and the changing severity of the Israeli Siege and Occupation are a major impediment and as a result the West Asian Union Federation does not always schedule games involving our teams.
In 2007 the national team was prevented from travelling to play a World Cup Qualifier in Singapore and eliminated, and in May 2008 for the AFC Challenge Cup denying them qualification for the 2011 Asia Cup. The Olympic players from Gaza have been barred from entry to the West Bank and the youth teams have frequently been denied exit and re-entry.
During Israel’s criminal attacks on Gaza in 2009 our national stadium was targeted and destroyed, as was the Palestinian Football Association building. A new stadium planned to be built in Gaza, Beit Lahiya, was ceased because of the continuing Israeli siege, which still bars concrete from entering the Gaza Strip along with other sports equipment. And theonly grass pitch in Gaza had previously been blown up by an Israeli missile forcing the national team to play matches in a virtually empty stadium in Qatar.
Just as the effective boycott of sports teams from the South African apartheid regime showed, sporting and political life cannot be separated. We ask you to not show solidarity with the army that oppresses, imprisons and kills Palestinian sportsmen and women in Palestine, and instead reach out to those Palestinian footballers with destroyed dreams and broken opportunities due entirely to the Israeli regime’s apartheid policies against them.
In the words of Mahmoud Sarsak:
As a released prisoner, Palestinian national team footballer and big fan of FC Barcelona, I strongly condemn the club’s decision to invite the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to one of their matches and I call on them to cancel this decision. There are almost 5000 political prisoners held captive in Israeli jails, suffering daily the horrifying Israeli prison practices that violate international humanitarian law and international agreements. Our prisoners, many of whom are footballers and other athletes, are facing some of the most brutal methods and practices of psychological and physical torture. Only former captives like myself know the full story of such oppression and humiliation which will haunt us for many years to come. I call on FC Barca to boycott participation with Israeli sports teams and call for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel until it allows Palestinians their fundamental rights, including the right to participate freely in sport and sports competitions. Do not invite the Israel Occupation Forces soldier Gilad Shalit when so many Palestinians rot in Israeli prisons for the crime of being Palestinians who wish to play football and other sports.
Hosting Gilad Shalit is like parading a SADF soldier during the 1980s at a European soccer match. Would you have done that, F.C Barcelona?
FC Barcelona Fans Association in Gaza
Alwehda (unity) Club-Rafah
Alasteqlal (independence) Club-Rafah
Jamaa’i Rafah Club
Alnuseirat Services Club
Deir Elbalah Services Club
Deir Elbalah Union Club
Alsalah Charity Club
Alwehda Club- Jabalia
Jabalia Youths Club
Beit Hanoun Civil Club
Beit Lahyia Club
Albureij Services Club
Almaghazi Services Club
Alnuseirat Sefrvices Club
Alzawaida Youth Club
Jabalia Union Club
Ansaar Jabalia Club
Gaza Sporting Club
ALtarabot Club- Deir Albalah
Albureij Civil Club
Alta3awn (Cooperation) Club
Albureij Youths Club
Alzawaida Union Club
Almaghazi Youths Club
Alataa’ Althahabi Club
Tel Alsoultaan Club
Shatti Services Club
Islamic Assembly Club
Khan Younus Union Club
Rafah Youth Club
Sports College—Al-Aqsa University
Players and coaches:
Mahmoud Sarsak (Palestine Soccer National Team Player)
Ghassan Balaawi (Palestine Soccer National Team Ex-coach)
Khaled Quake (Under 20 Palestine soccer Team coach)
Naim Salameh ( Coach)
Naif Abdul Hadi (Coach)
Jamal El Houli (Coach)
Abdul Hai Abu Shammaleh (Coach and Commentator)