One is a mixed Arab team and the other boasts of remaining "pure" Jewishby Nicholas Blincoe / September 17, 2019 / Leave a comment
All of the great football teams in Israel and Palestine emerged out of political rivalries. Perhaps the greatest rivalry is a contemporary one: the conflict between two of the teams in Israel’s Premier League—Bnei Sakhnin, the only top flight club from an Arab town, and Beitar Jerusalem, the club whose fans boast it is “forever pure” because it has never included a Palestinian in its squad.
There is a memorial on the road leading into the isolated Galilee city of Sakhnin that commemorates the deaths of six protesters on 30th March 1976. The date has since become an annual protest for the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, known as Land Day. Sakhnin is small, home to just 27,000 Muslims and 6,000 Christians, but it is famous for two things: Land Day and football.
The story of the Sons of Sakhnin United FC (Bnei Sakhnin in Hebrew, Abna Sakhnin in Arabic) began in 1991 with the merger of the town’s two teams. The route to success was slow but steady: Sakhnin reached Israel’s second tier in 1997. As Sakhnin climbed, the local police chief, Inspector Guy Reif, began imposing restrictions by closing games to the public or delaying starts.
Once Sakhnin reached the second division, he banned the team from using the home ground, claiming that its position made it too difficult to police. The club was forced to hire temporary grounds in Haifa, losing out financially as well as losing the traditional home-side advantage.
The situation changed as a result of another protest, this time in reaction to Ariel Sharon’s explosive march around the al-Aqsa compound in 2002. The TV coverage is credited with sparking the Second Intifada in the occupied territories. It is forgotten that the first protests began inside Israel. In the days immediately following, 12 Arab Israeli citizens (and a thirteenth, a boy from Gaza who was visiting relatives) were shot dead by police. Five of the dead came from Sakhnin.
The investigation into the deaths revealed that Inspector Reif had confronted protesters with just a single junior officer. Reif fired at the crowd killing at least one youth. Another child killed at a road junction was wearing the T-shirt of a charity that promoted Jewish-Arab coexistence.
The internal police investigation found only minor operational…