While politicians have tried everything they can to bring peace to the Middle East, now it’s time for the world of soccer to step in.
Barcelona will take a break from its regular preseason soccer schedule to visit Israel and the West Bank this weekend on a two-day "Peace Tour."
The Spanish champions are to arrive in Israel on Saturday afternoon, hours after playing an exhibition game the night before at home against the Brazilian club Santos.
Lionel Messi and newly signed Neymar are expected to be among the players who will lead two soccer clinics with local children.
When the trip was first announced in February, Barcelona chairman Sandro Rosell said he hoped to center events around a match between Barcelona and a mixed Israeli-Palestinian team. But the proposed game was canceled after objections by Palestinian Football Association chairman Jibril Rajoub.
Instead, the team will hold workshops with Israeli and Palestinian children as well as meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
Barcelona will be at the Dura Stadium near Hebron in the West Bank on Saturday to hold workshops and a series of mini-games in which dozens of Palestinian children will be given the opportunity to interact with the players.
On Sunday evening, up to 12,000 children are expected to attend a similar event at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, including children who regularly attend activities organized by The Peres Center for Peace.
The club said that all proceeds of the Peace Tour will be donated to the "promotion of peace between Israelis and Palestinians through the values of sport."
The visit comes a week after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Washington to relaunch peace talks that collapsed in 2008.
The Peres Center has ties with Barcelona and other Spanish clubs. In 2005, Barcelona beat a joint Israeli-Palestinian team 2-1 in a match held at the Camp Nou. In 2007, Real Madrid won a similar game 8-0 at Ramat Gan Stadium.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.