Seventy per cent of Jewish Israelis say they want a two-state solution. That doesn't mean they have a high opinion of Arabs. Consider the hardcore fans of Beitar Jerusalem FCby David Goldblatt / June 29, 2008 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
Beitar Jerusalem fans burn flares during an away game against Maccabi Netanya
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If he is an everyman, he certainly has the right name—Guy Israeli. By day, our man in Jerusalem is a tax consultant, but by night he is the “godfather” of La Familia, the football ultras who support the Israeli champions, Beitar Jerusalem. Tonight’s game is an Israeli Cup tie, away to second division Ahi Nazareth, an Arab club in the lower Galilee.
We pull off the sharply lit trunk road into darkness. In the car’s beams we pick out the broken street lamps, the pitted road and accumulated rubbish that announce our arrival in Arab Israel. Ahi Nazareth’s ground sits on a high spike of a hill on the city’s outskirts. On the summit, the floodlights of the citadel-stadium send a flare of light into the sky.
From the gloom below come the relentless spinning blue lights of police cars, vans and armoured trucks, criss-crossed by thin yellow beams from the helicopters circling above us. Denoted by his car number plate, the seventh-ranking police chief in the country is here, along with at least 600 police as well as border guards; one armed man for every six or seven fans, and they are nervous.
Like so much in Israel, the tension of this moment can be traced back to 1948—Israel’s foundation year—and before. No Arab, Muslim or Christian has ever played for Beitar, though they are common in every other Israeli squad. Beitar fans have always booed Arab players and fans for not singing the Hatikva (Israel’s national anthem) before games, but in the last decade or so the chants have become more viciously anti-Arab.
The most recent escalation in tensions began last November, on the 12th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by the ultra-nationalist Yigal Amir. A minute’s silence was held by every Israel football crowd but for Beitar, where La Familia sang songs in praise of Amir and the West Bank settlers. The following month they joined settler groups in a flag-planting ceremony on an occupied East Jerusalem hilltop earmarked for settlement. The next few games heard the usual but now louder refrains of “Muhammad is dead,” and “Death to the Arabs.” After the Amir incident, the Israeli FA ordered Beitar to play their next match, against Arab club Bnei Sakhnin, behind closed doors.