The Last Word: So who's policing the police?

It has been a disturbing week for Israeli soccer.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
It has been a disturbing week for Israeli soccer, one which should force those involved in the management of the game at the highest level locally to think very carefully about the way they treat their clientele. The video footage that Channel 10 broadcast on Wednesday featuring Galilee Police officers treating Betar Jerusalem fans like badly behaved cattle was shocking, to say the least. It unfortunately represented an attitude which is highly prevalent among police forces throughout the country, one which must be dealt with and abolished as soon as possible. For those who missed them, the video clips, shot by fans, showed dozens of Jerusalem supporters being shoved on to over-packed buses after their team's 0-0 draw at Bnei Sakhnin on Monday. Any fan who objected to the way he and others were being abused was subjected to the most vile of tirades by violent policemen who were also shown physically beating up supporters. The finger has all too often been pointed at Betar fans, when, in reality, the police seem to have problems whenever they have to deal with supporters of any of the bigger teams in Israel - Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv, as well as Betar. The implications of the videos were stark enough - there is a lack of respect for soccer supporters which harks back to the dark days of the 1970s and '80s in England, when hooliganism spread through the country's stadia like a cancer. Betar was quick to condemn the attitude of the policemen, releasing an official statement describing "the harsh reality… [of] violence and an attitude of flagrant disregard toward the fans." The root of the problem was outlined clearly in the second part of the Betar statement, which described how the club is required to spend millions of shekels annually on policing and security provisions for home games disproportionate in relation to other Premier League teams due to police allegations about the violent behavior of its fans. Rather than reducing the level of violence at soccer matches, "the violent behavior and cavalier brutality," as Betar described it, can be seen as responsible for incitement. The fact is that in a large majority of countries around the world, police are hardly seen at soccer matches. Instead, local stewards and specifically trained security personnel are used, to far greater success. Police are used to dealing with criminals, and as such, are way too quick to treat soccer fans as criminals whether they have broken the law or not. The situation is far from new. I remember attending a Betar vs Maccabi Tel Aviv game at Teddy Stadium some four and a half years ago and watching in horror as police on horses indiscriminately charged at a group of fans dancing outside the ground in celebration of a surprise 3-2 victory. Of course Betar vs Sakhnin is a game which has the potential for volatility. But if the contest went off without any real incident, why act as if those who paid good money to attend a soccer match are nothing but a bunch of despicable hooligans?