JERUSALEM: Barcelona’s visit to the West Bank over the weekend has been hailed by sports supreme Jibril Rajoub as “the most important event in the history of Palestinian sport” writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Rajoub, president of both the Palestinian national Olympic committee and the football federation, was speaking as Leo Messi, Neymar, Xavi and Co staged an hour-long clinic with 40 local boys and girls.
The clinic was staged in front of 25,000 fans, many wearing Barcelona shirts, in a new stadium in Dura near Hebron on Saturday,.
The Spanish champions had arranged a community-balanced visit to Palestine and Israel in their way to a pre-season tour in Asia.
An earlier proposal for Barcelona to play a friendly against a side made up of Palestinian and Israeli players in Tel Aviv fell through because of the political and security complications.
Hence the decision to visit the West Bank on Saturday and then run a similar clinic in Tel-Aviv in cooperation with the Shimon Peres Peace Center which uses football to cut through barriers of fear and suspicion engendered by the lands’ historical legacy.
Barcelona did not suffer any of the cross-border difficulties encountered by Palestinian athletes travelling between Gaza and the West Bank as well as by visiting sports teams heading for Ramallah and East Jerusalem.
Diplomatic pursuit of a solution by IOC president Jacques Rogge and FIFA president Sepp Blatter – most recently last month – have made little impression on the controlling Israeli security forces.
Hence the excitement surrounding the Barcelona visit to the Palestinian territories.
Rajoub, on behalf of Palestine, has submitted an application for the state to host FIFA’s annual congress in 2017 which would keep the issue in the headlines.
He and pro-Palestinian sympathisers had complained long and loud earlier this year about the staging in Israel of UEFA’s European Under-21 Championship finals.