Sarsak refuses FC Barcelona Shalit meet invitation, finds support from Palestinian society

The Electronic Intifada reported about the strong support of Palestinians for Mahmoud Sarsak, Palestinian footballer and released prisoner freed from arbitrary detention without charge or trial (as an ‘Unlawful Combatant’, the only prisoner so held and a unique status reserved for prisoners from Gaza being held without charge or trial) following an 100 day hunger strike that secured his freedom.

Sarsak rejected an invitation by FC Barcelona to attend a match that will be attended by Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in Gaza and released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. FC Barcelona invited Shalit to the match and in response to massive outcry, attempted to ‘balance’ its invitation to Shalit by inviting Sarsak.

Rejecting the request to attend alongside Shalit, Sarsak said:

“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 said further:

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.”

Palestinian footballers have demanded that Shalit’s invitation be revoked:

This call was joined by Palestinian civil society, supporting Shalit’s action:

As reported by the Electronic Intifada, prisoner support association Waed saluted Sarsak‘s action and condemned Palestinian Authority officials including Palestinian Football official Jibril Rajoub who accepted invitations by FC Barcelona to attend alongside Shalit.