Dreams and reality: Will photo ops produce Mideast peace?

FC Barcelon at the Western Wall
FC Barcelon at the Western Wall

At the Washington press conference held on July 30, US Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the Israelis and Palestinians will aim to reach a final status agreement to end their conflict in the time frame of nine months. He also had some words to say about the “dividends of peace” and the belief that the negotiators and leaders on both sides have in the success of the peace process.

Standing very seriously on either side of Secretary Kerry for the expected photo op, were chief negotiators Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat. After Dr. Erekat spoke, Minister Livni concluded the press conference with a statement saying “that history is not made by cynics. It is made by realists who are not afraid to dream.”

Fast forward a few days later, and the highly popular FC Barcelona is visiting Israel on a two-day “Peace Tour,” holding soccer clinics for 2,000 enthusiastic Israeli and Palestinian children in soccer stadiums in Tel Aviv and near Hebron.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, who invited the Barcelona team to Israel and told the players in his Jerusalem residence that they had arrived just on time, citing “Our Prime Minister and his government began a ‘tour of peace’ between us and the Palestinians, which is an important and timely decision. Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, you and the whole team can teach us and the Palestinians to play Tiki-Taka so we can score the goal we all hope for – the goal of peace.”

One of the more telling photos from the tour can be seen on the FC Barcelona’s official website where superstar Lionel Messi stands between Israeli terror victim Asael Shabo and a 17-year-old Palestinian, Mohamad, at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium. The three are smiling and look excited. Barca team captain Xavi Hernadez is quoted as saying that “the fact that we got to be with Palestinian and Israeli children was very rewarding for all of us…we did our small part for peace and coexistence between two communities.”

It is unclear whether FC Barcelona was made aware of Asael Shabo’s story. When Shabo was nine-years-old, a Palestinian terrorist broke into his family’s home in the Itamar community and murdered his mother and three brothers in a brutal gun attack on June 20, 2002. Asael, who was watching TV together with his five-year-old brother, Avishai, was badly injured while his younger brother was killed in the attack. A sister, Aviya, was also injured.

Following the terrorist attack, Shabo’s right leg had to be amputated and he spent two years in the hospital. He began intense rehabilitation treatments at the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled (ISCD) in Ramat Gan, where he later excelled in competitive sports.

It is the generation of youth like Asael Shabo whose stories are often forgotten during waves of peace talks. Those children who lost mothers, fathers, and siblings in countless terror attacks that engulfed the Jewish state by Palestinian terrorists seeking only Israel’s destruction.

But even more ironically, that element of terror and hatred still permeates Palestinian leadership. While many were celebrating the opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to come together in light of FC Barcelona’s visit, there were those who felt very differently.

Senior Palestinian Authority official, Jibril Rajoub who only weeks earlier stated that “if we had a nuke we’d have used it this very morning [against Israel], called for a sports boycott of Israel. The Fatah official spoke about the pressure placed on him to allow a joint photo of Israeli and Palestinian players with Messi. “We insisted that the photo include Messi and Muhammad,” he was quoted in the Times of Israel, declaring that he did not want an Israeli soccer player in the photo representing “occupation.”

“We are not racist, we are realists, “said Rajoub, who also heads the Palestinian Soccer Association. He shot down the opportunity for a joint-exhibition match during Barca’s visit and referred to Israel as Nazis, stating that “I will not allow nor agree to a joint game between Arabs and Israel.”

Furthermore, according to Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), during Barcelona’s visit, a sportscaster on Palestinian Authority television stated that “Today Barcelona comes to visit Palestine and nothing else. Only Palestine and its capital Jerusalem, Eilat, Rosh Hanikra, and all the Palestinian cities in the north, south, west, and east.”

Who are the dreamers and who are the realists?

Ignoring Fatah officials and leaders like Jibril Rajoub do not make them go away. They may not appear in photo ops in Western media, but their hate speech and actions continue to propel another generation of Palestinians to play a very different game than that envisioned by Shimon Peres, John Kerry and the well-meaning FC Barcelona.

Anav Silverman is senior reporter at Tazpit News Agency.