Israel Police has decided to give the go ahead to Sunday's soccer match between Bnei Sakhnin, the only Arab team in Israel's Premier League, and Beitar Jerusalem, which promises to be a tense affair with tight security.
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With a history of clashes between fans of the two teams, a hardcore of Beitar fans known for racist chants and violence, and a wave of unrest and terror attacks in Israel's capital and in the West Bank, police had banned the game, citing security concerns. One issue of particular concern was that the emergency exit at Bnei Sakhnin's stadium was not safe enough.
After touring the stadium, however, Israeli Police said Friday that they were satisfied security had been improved sufficiently ahead of the match.
Following the visit, Major General Zohar Dvir, head of the Northern District, said that "despite the sensitive situation, the police's intention was to enable the game to take place in conditions that wouldn't endanger the fans or the players."
"This is a sporting event, and we expect the fans to behave with restraint and to refrain from provocations that are likely to disturb public order."
The Israel Football Association welcomed the decision, AFP reported, and also urged fans to "act decently, (and) maintain sportsmanlike conduct and fair-play."
Last year, Beitar fans torched the team's offices after the signing of two Muslim players from Chechnya, Gabriel Kadiev and Zaur Sadaev. Only a few days after the arson attack, Bnei Sakhnin played a highly-charged match against Beitar at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, and police ejected some 35 fans of both teams.
Beitar's fan website said that only 400 supporters were being allowed to attend Sunday's match, AFP said. Sakhnin will provide eight buses to bring the fans to the stadium, and a staff of hundreds of security personnel will be present at the match, AFP added.
Last month, the Israel Football Association fined Bnei Sakhnin 15,000 shekels (around $4,000) for an on-pitch tribute to Azmi Bishara, the former Knesset member who fled to Qatar amid allegations that he had passed information to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and who had donated money to the team. The Association said the team violate regulations by making a political gesture.
Racism in the Liga Leumit
Sunday's upcoming match is not the only Israeli soccer game that carries with it the specter of racism. At a second-tier Liga Leumit game between Bnei Yehuda and Bnei Lod on Friday, Bnei Yehuda fans shouted "Death to Arabs" and other racist slurs at Bnei Lod chairman Abu Subhi and midfielder Salim Tuam.
Then, in the 37th minute, after player Mahmoud Abbas went off the field with an injury, Bnei Yehuda fans shouted and spat at him, and pelted him with cans, Subhi told reporters after the match.
The Israel Football Association said it "wholeheartedly condemns the ugly sights and voices" during the match. It added that the fight against racism and incitement must continue.