Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Gaza and Basketball

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Gaza and Basketball

Article excerpt

WE HAVE OFFICIALLY entered uncharted waters. Never before in my years of reporting has a sports team been forced to abandon the field of play due to political protest from fans. Never before have fans become the central actors in turning a sporting event into a political mélée.

But on Jan. 6 in Ankara, Turkey, the Israeli basketball team, Bnei Hasharon, had to flee the wrath of what the Associated Press described as "hundreds of fist-pumping, chanting Turkish fans." What exploded was yet another protest against Israel's bombardment of Gaza. The shock here is the setting, a sports arena, and the target, a basketball team.

It may be surprising that this came to pass in such a supposedly apolitical environs-a Eurocup game against a team called Turk Telekom-but local officials knew this could happen and took every precaution. Thousands of police officers surrounded the court, and street demonstrations of 4,000 people were already taking place outside the arena. Protesters shouted, "Israeli murderers, get out of Palestine!" and "Allah-u Akhbar!" as the Hasharon team bus entered the arena.

Only 500 fans were even let into the arena and were also subject to intense searches, but it wasn't enough. Police made the mistake of not confiscating the shoes.

Before the game could begin, angry chants of "Israeli killers!" came down from the crowd as smuggled Palestinian flags were unfurled. Then, in a scene that would look familiar to a certain former president, off came the shoes as footwear rained down from the stands (the shoes didn't hit any players).

Police made the mistake of not confiscating the shoes.

As both teams looked at the crowd, frozen in place, battles began between police officers and Turkish fans, as the fans surged forward to take the court. Both Hasharon and Turk Telecom were rushed off and spent two hours in the locker rooms while the battle for control of the arena raged on.

Hashoran captain Meir Tapiro spoke about the fear and chaos he felt around him to the Jerusalem Post: "The fans raced on to the court and ran toward us like madmen, but the police stopped them. It was really scary."

After 90 minutes all the fans were expelled, arrested or dragged from the arena. The referees attempted to get the teams back onto the court to play before an empty arena, but Bnei Hasharon, after two hours of being prisoners in their locker room, had no desire to play. …

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