Police, Knesset ponder how to end soccer pitch invasions

Insp.-Gen. David Cohen expresses support for under-fire J'lem District Chief Cmdr. Ilan Franco.

Betar crush 298 (photo credit: AP)
Betar crush 298
(photo credit: AP)
Two days after the horrifying stampede following a Betar Jerusalem game at Teddy Stadium, physical wounds began to heal while both soccer and political leadership began to look for the root of the problem - and its solution. The police probe led by Traffic Division head Cmdr. Avi Ben-Hemmo reached out to Betar fans Tuesday morning, asking them to come forward and offer the police "any details that could be relevant" to understanding the causes of the incident Sunday night. The police investigative team began its work Monday night, hours after Insp.-Gen. David Cohen announced its formation. Ben-Hemmo's findings must be submitted to Cohen by Thursday. During a conference Tuesday, Cohen expressed his support for Jerusalem District Chief Cmdr. Ilan Franco, who has come under fire for the way police handled the incident in which dozens of fans were injured while trying to invade the pitch. "The attack on Franco is unfair," Cohen said. "I give my full support to the Jerusalem district commander. "I want to consider the fact that we have witnessed a personal attack on a commander rich with achievements. Franco has been confronting public disturbances in a difficult and complex city for years." "This didn't begin at Teddy," said Public Security Minister Avi Dichter while attending the same conference. "Violence on the sports fields is common, and what happened in Jerusalem is exceptional, but there is a line of violent incidents at sporting events that has been drawn out for a long time now." While the police examined its role in the incident, the Knesset's Education, Culture and Sport Committee's head MK Rabbi Michael Melchior scheduled an emergency session to discuss the events at the stadium. Melchior said Tuesday that, "We, the people's leaders, must ensure that the season will conclude in a sportsmanlike manner. "In the meeting, we will discuss the possibilities for legislation that will prevent serious incidents of this type," Melchior added. In addition to MKs, the Science, Culture and Sports Ministry's top official for sports Uri Harlap will attend the meeting as will Betar Jerusalem's security head Elad Eisenberg and Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon. Luzon has been outspoken in placing the blame for the incident on Betar's fans and not on police misconduct. Luzon, Eisenberg and Harlap are expected to be joined by representatives of the Public Security Ministry, the soccer teams' management, representatives of the New Israel Fund, the Jerusalem Municipality and fans' and players' associations. Meanwhile, the medical condition of the two youths seriously injured during the post-game stampede continued to improve. One has regained consciousness and is now mobile on crutches, whereas the second is still listed in serious condition, but is breathing unassisted. Usfiya native Dr. Amin Zeidan was sitting in the standby ambulance that is always present during soccer games. Zeidan, a Betar fan, is a doctor at the Terem clinics. "Unfortunately, I was forced to be present at an incident that revealed the ugly face of society and of the fans specifically," he said. "In my mind, and judging by what I managed to see, it was impossible to prevent the incident. The police did everything that they could to try and prevent the incident and it is important to emphasize that the two eastern gates and one western gate were open. Even still, I ended up having to care for large numbers of injured." Zeidan emphasized that he believed the responsibility for the chaos at the stadium lay not with the police, but in the "character" of the fans who "despite the police efforts 'succeeded' in bringing about such terrible results" in an event meant to be sportsmanlike.