Babylon & Beyond

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ISRAEL: The soccer wars

March 11, 2008 |  2:48 pm


Politics and violence, it seems, infuse every aspect of life in Israel and the Palestinian territories — including soccer.

A early-round playoff match for the State Cup on Tuesday between the Beitar Jerusalem and Ahi Nazareth soccer clubs became the latest focal point for Israeli-Palestinian tensions. The fans of Nazareth, an Arab club, drew heavy criticism in Israel last week after a Palestinian gunman killed eight religious students Thursday in a shooting spree at a Jerusalem yeshiva.

The next day, Ahi Nazareth fans booed and heckled through a pre-match moment of silence for the victims. The scene recalled another ugly moment last fall when Beitar Jerusalem’s notoriously right-wing fans booed through a moment of silence for the anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.

With emotions running high on both sides, the Tuesday match between Beitar and Nazareth fueled its own war of words. Nazareth players vowed not to shake hands with their counterparts, and a Beitar player offered his solution to the security problems in the Gaza Strip, saying Israel should “come, kill, and destroy.”

Authorities deployed 400 extra police officers to head off potential violence between the fans. There was even speculation about whether the match should be canceled.

Nonetheless, the match began peacefully and Beitar won, 3-0, to move on to the quarterfinals.

— Gabby Sobelman in Jerusalem

Photo: Beitar Jerusalem's Derek Boateng, left, jumps for a header with Dinamo Bucharest's Ionel Ganea, right, during a 2006 game. Credit: VADIM GHIRDA/AP