President Shimon Peres set the tone on Sunday at a reception he hosted for FC
Barcelona when he lauded Lionel Messi and his soccer team as “messengers of
peace,” noting that their “Peace Tour” had coincided with the resumption of
Soccer “creates a horizon of hope for
all children,” the president said at his residence in Jerusalem.
is more than just a club. Over the years you achieved the highest level of
football,” Peres said at his residence in the capital.
“But more than
that, Barca became a message of solidarity, of friendship, of caring for the
weak. You became messengers of peace.”
Through the Peres Center for
Peace, Israeli and Palestinian children play together and train together, even
in times of tension, he said.
“Your visit to the Holy Land is a dream
come true for Israeli and Palestinian children,” the president continued.
“Israeli and Palestinian children dream of two goals: scoring the winning goal
at Camp Nou [Barcelona’s stadium in Catalonia] and the great goal of
Referring to some of Barcelona’s most popular players, Peres
said: “Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and the whole team can teach us and the Palestinians
to play tiki-taka so that we can score the winning goal we all hope for – the great dream of peace.”
packed audience, filled with sports personalities and reporters, laughed because
tikitaka is a soccer style characterized by short, quick passes. Barca is famous
for it, but the Middle East peace process is hardly known for its rapid
Netanyahu picked up the ball quickly from Peres, drawing a parallel
between politics and sport in his address to the Barcelona players.
message conveyed by Barcelona is that there are common ties between people, said
the prime minister, who happily admitted that like millions of others around the
world, he is a Barcelona fan.
“I watch you all the time,” he said. “We
both play on the international field – only you get paid more than I do. And you
also have common goals. What you usually want to do is score against your
rivals, but also protect the home base, your goal.... If you win, everyone
shares in the victory.
“Here is my great hope,” Netanyahu
“My hope is to see good football games, to have peace and security
and to have 1 percent of your fan base.”
If just 1 percent of the 300
million fans Barca has around the world visit Israel, Netanyahu said, “that
would help our economy and it would help peace as well.”
stole the show from FC Barcelona with his display of soccer
Toward the end of the proceedings, moderated by commentator and
former Israeli soccer star Bonni Ginzburg – Barcelona FC president Sandro Rosell
presented Peres and Netanyahu with signed soccer balls and Barcelona Football
Club jerseys emblazoned with the words “Peace Tour” and the club’s lucky number
Netanyahu inspected the ball, passing it from one hand to the other,
then expertly kicked it toward one of his aides on the other side of the
Rosell spoke for the entire team when he said that the
target of the Peace Tour was children, because Barca was the most popular
foreign team among both Israelis and Palestinians.
For the sake of the
region’s children, Rosell said, he hoped that the Israeli-Palestinian peace
talks started in Washington recently would bear fruit.
“We all pray that
these negotiations will end in a good manner,” he said. “We know that our coming
here is a drop in the ocean, but for us, this drop is very important, and we
will deliver any drop that we can to Israel and the Palestinians to make the
The packed audience at the President’s Residence cheered
Rosell when, on behalf of Barcelona, he expressed his love for
“What we really want is... to be your friends for life,” he
The occasion was used by Education Minister Shai Piron to
launch his “The Other Is Me’ campaign via the Treaty of Tolerance that he signed
along with Peres, Netanyahu and Culture and Sport Minister Limor
Piron said he hoped the Barca Peace Tour would promote peace
among Israelis as well as with Israel’s neighbors.
If Israel aims to
become a nation of excellence, he said, it must eradicate violence, racism and
discrimination. His wish was that the treaty, which calls for the elimination of
these negative factors and for the promotion and upholding of mutual respect,
social justice, minority rights, civil rights and the right of others to be
different, is due to be signed by one million young people who are the future
adults and leaders of Israel.
The Barcelona Peace Tour visit, which went
through a nine-month gestation period before reaching fruition, caused
considerable excitement among Palestinian and Israeli fans.
interest was abnormally high.
“There are more media people here than came
for [US President Barack] Obama,” exclaimed a staff member at the President’s
As Messi left the residence with his team, the 26-year-old
Argentinean star forward gave a thumbs-up from the back seat on his bus to the
dozens of children on summer vacation waiting outside with their parents, some
of them wearing Messi shirts.
“Messi, Messi!” they screamed in
Earlier in the day, members of the Barcelona team donned kippot
and placed notes in the Western Wall before posing for a group photograph with
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz.
“I described how important the Wall
is for the Jewish people, spiritually and historically,” Rabinowitz told The
. “The whole Barcelona team was very excited by the visit. I saw
Messi put a note in the wall, but I don’t know what he wrote on
Tourism Minister Uzi Landau met the team at the Western Wall and
gave a Goodwill Ambassador for Israel certificate to Rosell.
you with this certificate with gratitude and in the hope that you will share
your experiences about the real Israel with family and friends on your return
home,” Landau said. “The Tourism Ministry sees great value in the visit of the
Barcelona Football Club in encouraging tourism to Israel. Football is an
international language and it is enough that millions of Barcelona fans around
the world will see photos and video of their team visiting the Western Wall,
places of entertainment and other tourism sites in Israel in order to promote
tourism to Israel.”
Barcelona held a soccer clinic for Israeli children
on Sunday, met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank on Saturday, and
ran soccer drills with Palestinian children.Noa Amouyal and
Post staff contributed to this report.