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One directs traffic with a smile, calling out orders in Arabic as he helps his buds pick up tickets. He says Beitar finally got the right owner and the right coach. “The guys who ruin the office, who ruin history — they call them fans,” he says. It won’t pass in silence.” But don’t you care to see how they play first? “Doesn’t matter how they play.” Right before I enter Teddy, I meet a cheerful, wizened little man who’s been following Beitar for 40 years. You could start in 1948, when Israel was founded through military action — known as the War of Independence on one side of the conflict and the Catastrophe on the other — against Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan.
“But the supporters of Sakhnin — we say ‘Allahu Akbar’ — it’s a legal word, totally legitimate. He says he’s a saroof supporter — colloquially meaning “fanatic,” but literally meaning “burned.” “In the rain, whenever — I’m there. You could start at any point since then, as Beitar Jerusalem, with its crest of the menorah and its cry of “Beitar Forever,” has become an uneasy symbol of the city.
“They” — an undefined “they” — “have burned clubs, they have burned history.” And who did it this time? They waited until there was balagan” — trouble — “at Beitar and then they could do what they want.” Onel, a smiley, slightly cross-eyed kid, is not so sure. And, tonight at least, there are cops — in trucks, on horses, in battalion formation. Several TV news crews have also arrived to cover the game, and the cameramen dart around, ready to capture anyone willing to offer a sharply worded opinion.
The signing of the Chechens, he says, “was playing with matches next to benzene.” It’s a nicely phrased sentence, and I ask him to repeat it, to make sure I understood the Hebrew. Outside the stadium, three teenagers are handing out flyers.
A few minutes later, a new speaker takes the microphone and pleads for “patience, patience, patience.” A pair of border police walk by and one mutters, without almost any emotion, “Patience for your mother, you bat zona.” Technically, the term means “daughter of a whore,” but a better English equivalent would be “motherfucker.” Then Avi, one of the hot dog vendors, offers his opinion: “Arcadi” — that’d be Arcadi Gaydamak, Beitar’s absentee Russian billionaire owner — “wanted headlines. Police escorted most of the Sakhnin fans to their seats, but these guys don’t look too troubled to be on their own. “They put him in today and he scores a goal, he’s bought his world in Beitar.” I ask what he thinks will happen with La Familia. You could start in 1936, when Beitar spawned a soccer club, Beitar Jerusalem FC, in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine.A group of about 15 teenagers — in track jackets, white sneakers, kippahs, and the glaring yellow and black of Beitar Jerusalem — happily rumbles into the car.“We came with a purpose — to see sport, to see soccer,” Moshiko, who looks about 16, tells me.“Not politics, not to curse Arabs, not to curse Jews.We’re against racism, against violence — the whole word ‘racism,’ everything to do with it, we’re against.” And when the racist chants start? We shut our eyes and ignore it.” Another boy, Dan, interjects: “But [Bnei Sakhnin supporters] have to weigh their words. ” 20-minute drive from the sloped, twisted alleyways and ancient stone walls of Jerusalem’s Old City is Teddy Stadium, a utilitarian white-brick and cement structure.
That evening, the Channel 2 nightly news dedicated half its program to the story.