During a premier soccer league game that was held on Saturday night at the Sami Ofer Stadium, the home field of Maccabi Haifa, the guests, fans of Bnei Sakhnin FC, were heard screaming at the top of their lungs: “In spirit and blood we’ll redeem al-Aqsa.”
This organized call for violence would be problematic on any day, but against the background of Arab riots in support of the six fugitive terrorists who escaped from prison, it’s a cause for alarm.
Otzma Yehudit Chairman MK Itamar Ben-Gvir wrote the chairman of Israel’s Soccer Association, Oren Hasson, noting that the violent slogans heard in Haifa were several times more alarming than past incidents for which heavy penalties had been imposed on the teams.
Ben-Gvir recalled as an example the Betar Jerusalem team, which was punished with a loss of a point, a fine of NIS 40,000 ($12,500), having one home game without an audience and another home game within a radius from home, for the fact that its fans threw objects and called a rival player “terrorist.”
MK Ben Gvir added: “It’s inconceivable that a team that plays in the Israeli league acquiesce to such calls from its fans, and proceedings must be taken against Bnei Sakhnin FC and its fans. The association must suspend their games immediately and impose severe penalties on it including losing points, playing without an audience, and a heavy fine.”
Asked whether the calls in question were considered incitement, Israel’s Soccer Association said they “do not issue a response on decisions of whether or not to prosecute,” and added that “the issue will, of course, be examined by the association’s legal experts.”
It should be noted that in January 2016 the same team was prosecuted by the league for contemptuous whistles from its fans during the playing of the national anthem, while the same fans’ calls of “with blood and fire we’ll redeem Palestine” were not brought up at all.
Bnei Sakhnin (Sons of Sakhnin) is based at the Doha Stadium in Sakhnin in Galilee. The stadium was built with public funds from the State of Israel and the Qatar National Olympic Committee and is named after the Qatari city of Doha. The decision by the Qataris to help build the stadium in Israel came after a meeting between MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) and Secretary-General of the Qatar National Olympic Committee Sheikh Saud Abdulrahman Al Thani.
Bnei Sakhnin FC is the most successful soccer in Arab-Israeli society, having won the State Cup in 2004. On August 29 this year, the Arab club defeated one of Israel’s top teams, Maccabi Tel Aviv 3-1. It lost the game in Haifa where the fans called for violence against Jews 1-2.