Palestinians criticize FC Barcelona for possible match with Israeli team

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A top European football team has come under fire for planning to play against an Israeli side, although the match is unconfirmed.

A group of Palestinian football teams issued an open letter to FC Barcelona on Friday urging the club to cancel a football match against Beitar Jerusalem, according to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The so-called international friendly match is scheduled to take place on August 4 at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. Palestinian teams said the event is an effort to distract from Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians.

“As colleagues, and as athletes who share a passion for sport and fair play, we do not want your passion and your name to be abused by anyone, especially not by the propaganda of the ‘Israeli apartheid in its desperate attempt to wash away the continuing violations of international law and crimes against our Palestinian people,’ the teams said, according to BDS.

BDS supports a variety of boycotts against Israel and Israelis, including in the cultural sphere, in opposition to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The statement specifically cited the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where local Arabs are engaged in a land dispute with a group of Jews.

Beitar Jerusalem is known to have anti-Arab nationalists and racists among its fans. The team tried to clean up their image recently. Last year, an Emirati investor bought a 50% stake in the club, which was praised by some fans.

FC Barcelona is based in the eponymous city of the autonomous region of Catalonia in Spain. The team and its star Lionel Messi are extremely popular in the Middle East and around the world.

Arab-Israeli parliamentarian Sami Abou Shahadeh also wrote to FC Barcelona on Thursday asking them to cancel the match.

However, on Sunday, the official Palestinian Authority news agency WAFA reported receiving a letter from FC Barcelona saying the club had not confirmed any matches with Beitar.

A Palestinian football organization also protested the alleged match, as the Beitar Jerusalem stadium was in the Malha neighborhood of Jerusalem, according to WAFA. The neighborhood was inhabited by Arabs before the 1948 Israeli-Palestinian war, but the community left during the conflict. Some Israeli academics say they fled, while some Palestinians claim they were expelled.

Representatives of FC Barcelona did not immediately respond to Al-Monitor’s request for comment.

FC Barcelona is not new to the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team visited Israel and the Palestinian Territory in the West Bank in 2013 for a peace-oriented tour.


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