Soccer / Beaten Referee Hands in Damning Report of Bnei Sakhnin Violence

Court remands alleged assailant Saher Halaila for further 48 hours

Referee Assaf Keinan yesterday handed in to the Israel Football Association his report on the violent events at Saturday's game between Bnei Sakhnin and Hapoel Tel Aviv at Kiryat Eliezer.

Keinan described the events that resulted in injuries to two policemen, two fans and to himself after he was allegedly punched in the face by Saher Halaila, an associate of the Sakhnin board. Although he has no official title, Halaila sits on the Sakhnin bench on a regular basis.

The Haifa Magistrate's Court yesterday extended Halaila's remand for another 48 hours, but Haifa police have so far been unable to come up with concrete evidence that Halaila in fact assaulted Keinan.

"We have no proof of Keinan's allegations. Either nobody saw or nobody is willing to corroborate that an assault took place. In addition, there are no physical signs on the referee's face that would indicate that he was punched," said Haifa police chief Nir Mariash.

Despite the lack of evidence, police plan to charge Halaila with assault, although he will not be charged with intention to cause grievous bodily harm. Police are planning further arrests once analysis of video footage of the game and security cameras has been completed. A Sakhnin fan charged with stabbing a police officer was arrested after the game on the basis of video evidence.

In his report, Keinan said that in the 87th minute following the red carding of Sakhnin's Alain Masoudi - the second Sakhnin player to be sent off in the 2-1 defeat - Sakhin fans seated in the western exit began throwing chairs and bottles onto the field.

Several Sakhnin fans broke through the gate and burst on to the field. One of the fans tried to assault assistant referee Uzi Basson, but was apprehended by police. The other fans who had entered the pitch were pushed back into the stands.

Following the final whistle, Keinan wrote, Halaila punched him in the face leading him to require medical treatment.

Sakhnin will be brought before the Israel Football Association's disciplinary court to face charges of violent conduct by its fans, but because Halaila is not listed as a member of its board, the club will not be charged with assaulting the referee, an offense that could have resulted in deduction of league points. The lesser charges are likely to lead to Sakhnin having to play several home games behind closed doors in addition to a heavy fine.

In the wake of the events, the IFA yesterday wrote to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, calling for tougher penalties for soccer-related violence.

"Physical assault on a referee empties the game of all its meaning and leaves us all with a very bitter taste. This must be the last stop, there are no more red lines to cross ... we call on you to instruct all under your authority to stiffen sentences, to appeal light sentences and to ensure that the aggressor, who has brought the situation to new lows by attacking a referee, serves the maximum sentence and sees justice served against him," wrote IFA chair Itche Menahem and Arye Zeif, head of the referee's association.

Sakhnin chairman Mazen Ghnaim yesterday condemned the violent outburst by the club's fans, but said that it was rooted in incitement against Sakhnin. "What happened is shameful not only for Sakhnin, but for soccer in general. However there is a reason and the incitement against Bnei Sakhnin needs to be rooted out. We are against all violations of the law, but it is time that we received recognition and legitimization that we are a team and a town in the State of Israel."