Guest contribution by Maryam I.
FC Barcelona recently took part in an effort to normalize Israeli occupation by inviting both Gilad Shalit, a trained and armed Israeli occupation soldier held captive in Gaza for five years, and Mahmoud Sarsak, a Palestinian professional soccer player who was detained and imprisoned by Israel for three years without being charged of any criminal offense, to watch an FC Barcelona match.
Editor’s note: Apparently, an Israeli “ex-minister” is reported to have solicited Shalit’s invitation from FC Barcelona. Soon after, Palestinian embassy officials requested invitations for Sarsak and two Palestinian Authority officials to which FC Barcelona quickly obliged in an attempt to quell mounting pressure against the football club’s decision to host an occupation soldier. Sarsak says, “I officially recieved an invitation today from Barcelona but I will not attend the Clasico because I refuse the comparison of my case to the case of Gilad Shalit. I carry a message of love and peace and he carries a message of war and killing. I was arrested because I love football and he got arrested because he was killing people!”
This effort to create the illusion of similarity between the captivity of an armed invading soldier and the persecution of an athlete who never participated in armed resistance is not only offensive but alienating as well. Alienating to a segment of the world’s population often ignored and marginalized but just as often subjected to unfathomable violence and trauma by a representative of the same forces FC Barcelona is now hosting at one of their matches. Alienating to the children of Gaza.
As the most popular sport in the world, it is no surprise that children in Gaza are obsessed with soccer. Not only do they spend every spare moment playing barefooted soccer in the alleys of their refugee camps, they also follow professional soccer very closely. Gaza’s children are either a die hard Real Madrid fans or a die hard FC Barcelona fans.
This loyalty is so deep rooted that children only befriend kids who pledge allegiance to the same team, children wear their counterfeit FC Barcelona jerseys whenever they are clean, children even beg their mothers to get them FC Barcelona themed pajama sets, but most impressively, they go as far as marking the walls and doors of their homes with the name of this team they so proudly stand behind.
But what happens when, less than four years after they mourned the murder of classmates and relatives; the destruction of schools, mosques, and hospitals; and the decrepitation of the infrastructure of the enclave they call home, this same football club welcomes a man who proudly served and continues to represent the military that committed these war crimes?
They feel neglected and alienated. Even the sacred and well-disciplined world of professional soccer has betrayed these children; even the place where they go to escape from the harsh realities of life under siege and occupation has turned its back on them.
As FC Barcelona tries to be political correct, “balanced,” “fair,” and “pro-peace,” the people who suffer most as a result of this unfortunate decision are Gaza’s betrayed children.
Maryam I. is a third generation Palestinian refugee, born and raised in the United States. Follow her on twitter: @48Refugee.