(photo credit: יוסף אבי יאיר אנגל)
FC Barcelona left Israel just before midnight on Sunday after exhilarating tens
of thousands of fans, Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and Muslims alike, throughout
a two-day visit to the Middle East.
After spending the first day of its
visit in the Palestinian Authority, Lionel Messi & Co. had an even busier
day on Sunday, meeting Israel’s top statesmen and visiting the Western Wall
before completing the trip by putting on a clinic with children at Bloomfield
Stadium in Jaffa.
While the club’s players remained silent throughout
what was branded as the Peace Tour, the politicians, both Israeli and Spanish,
thrived in the hyped visit.
“I want to thank Barca for making the dream
of the children come true,” said Israel President Shimon Peres. “Israeli and
Palestinian children have two dreams, first to score the winning goal at Camp
Nou and second to achieve a peace between the two people.”
crowd of over 14,000 packed into Bloomfield to watch Barcelona participate in
drills for half an hour with six groups of seven children each, before beginning
its own hour-long practice.
The team entered the field to roaring applause
as each player held the hands of young Israeli soccer players.
“Messi, Messi!” broke out at many points during practice as Israelis showed
their appreciation for the world class football star.
Peres told the team prior to the clinic. “You are messengers for peace. You
brought light to our children… and a message of peace to the Middle East. Thank
Peres instructed the cheering crowd to “play football and make
friends. Don’t make war and make enemies.”
Addressing Israel’s young
footballers in Hebrew, Peres promised “the day will come when one of you will be
just like Messi.”
The president concluded his speech by ceremonially
kicking a ball to Messi before the two shook hands.
Earlier in the day,
Barcelona visited the President’s Residence, where Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu was also on hand, as the two welcomed the club to Israel and endorsed
its message of peace.
“There is something in the spirit of sports and the
universal love for football that creates common ties,” said Netanyahu. “That is
the real message. There are common ties between people and they can be
enhanced by sports.”
On Saturday, Barcelona held a similar clinic for
Palestinian children in the West Bank, where they also met with Mahmoud Abbas,
president of the Palestinian Authority.