A boost for relations between Israel and the Palestinians will be received in the shape of a visit by the illustrious Barcelona football team to Israel this weekend to provide coaching clinics for Israeli and Palestinian children.
New manager Tata Martino will lead an entourage of 300 players and their families including Lionel Messi and his parents, new signing Neymar and Manchester United target Cesc Fabregas.
Billed by Barcelona as the “Middle East Peace Tour,” the Spanish champions will lead a football clinic for Israeli and Palestinian children at Dura Stadium near Hebron tomorrow followed by a similar event at Jaffa’s Bloomfield Stadium on Sunday.
The latter will launch a major education ministry initiative, “The Other is Me” to promote coexistence. Five hundred Palestinian children from the West Bank will be given special passes to attend the Jaffa event. The Catalans will also meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
The trip was originally set up in February after a meeting in Israel between Mr Peres and Barcelona President Sandro Rosell. But Palestinian FA chairman Jibril Rajoub said that such an event would not be welcome and the visit was cancelled. Then, unexpectedly last Thursday, Barcelona announced their imminent arrival.
Israelis and Palestinians alike adore Barcelona, considered by many to be the best club side in the history of football and the visit is creating a buzz greater than that surrounding Hollywood celebrities. The team will stay at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem and visit the city’s holy sites. The visit will reportedly cost Barcelona €3 million.