The Palestinian political party Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, has released a statement encouraging Gazans to boycott Barcelona after the club reportedly invited the former Israeli soldier Guilad Shalit to the Camp Nou to watch 'el Clásico' on Sunday October 7.
Shalit was kidnapped by the armed wing of Hamas in June 2006 and spent five years in capture before being released as part of a prisoner exchange in October 2011.
The news has angered many Barcelona fans in Gaza, who have protested via social media and have petitioned the club to not allow Shalit to enter the stadium.
The Prisoners Club of Gaza, linked to Hamas, released a statement saying: "Inviting Shalit is a new attempt to cover up the crimes of Zionism in the name of sport. How can such a respectable club, which in the past has defended multiculturalism and humanism, invite a killer and criminal such as Shalit and show him their honour and respect?"
Barcelona are widely supported in Palestine and in Israel. The club confirmed that Shalit will attend the game but vice-president Carles Vilarrubi denied that he had been given an official invitation, and said he had requested to go to the game as a journalist for the Israeli newspaper 'Yedioth Aharonot'.
According to the paper, Shalit has been invited to the game at the request of former Israel minister Yitzhak Herzog, who has a close relationship with former Barcelona president Joan Laporta.
Barcelona have released the following statement on their website on the matter:
"After multiple reports citing that the Israeli citizen Gilad Shalit will be at the Camp Nou for the Clásico against Real Madrid, the Club wishes to express the following:
- The Club did not invite Mr. Shalit to the game, but accepted a request to watch a match during his visit to Barcelona.
- 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 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."
- 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."