F.C. Identity Dispute – Jerusalem Case

Jerusalem is divided, not because of a political or military conflict, this division is new from the past decade as F.C. Hapoel Jerusalem split up and out stepped F.C. Hapoel Katamon. (Note: this article was written in March 2014)

Photo by Olli Waldhauer

Before the story of the conflict, here is a short history lesson on the football clubs in Israel as to understand the bigger picture. In the early years of Israel the football clubs were associated with ideological movements and parties, used as a tool in the struggle between them on the state's character.

One of them is "Hapoel" (The Worker) association which is connected to the Labor Movement. Other associations were "Maccabi" which was associated with the bourgeois middle class and "Beitar" which is tied to the Revisionist Movement (the right wing who believe in greater Israel). The Sport associations opened clubs in various cities forming the football clubs known today as Maccabi Tel Aviv, Beitar Jerusalem, Hapoel Jerusalem and more.

Over the time, the identification of the fans with the clubs stopped being political and became communal according to the geographical region. In addition, the turn of the Israeli society to capitalism affected the football while the clubs’ control moved from the early 90's to management and ownership by business entities, which for them the club's political-Ideological label were irrelevant. The mid-90's changes are the background of Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Katamon conflict.

Photo by Olli Waldhauer

"Sassy is a Beitar fan (the right wing club). He bought Hapoel Jerusalem because it paid off: it made him famous and he have an open door to the mayor. And what better than that for a contractor?" says Eitan Perry, Katamon's spokesman and fan. Yossi Sassi is part of those businessmen who bought the football clubs from the political institutions .After ten years of protests from the fans against the owner who "succeeded" to roll the club to wander in the low leagues while repeatedly refusing to sell the club, the fans decided on a drastic action: open their own club – Hapoel Katamon, named on the mythic field of Hapoel Jerusalem which was located in the Jerusalem neighborhood called Katamon. "At the last season before the split there was a sense that the club is falling apart and the elders of the fans said: If we got used to the world without Brigitte Bardot we will get used to a world without Hapoel Jerusalem" says Gal Hochstien, a Katamon fan and the broadcaster of Katamon's radio program.

The goal in this move was to establish their own body to hold the fans of Hapoel Jerusalem together until the club will fall apart, then the fans will be able to take over the dismantled club. Eitan Perry: "Katamon began as a home for Hapoel Jerusalem fans who were fed up with the owner and their goal is to design Hapoel Jerusalem in a manner that takes a stand against racism and violence. A kind of message that has always belonged to the spirit of Hapoel." These values are expressed by projects of the fans within the community such as voluntarily Hebrew teaching to immigrants and football training for pupils with daily difficulties from various sectors which otherwise would never meet each other.

Photo by Olli Waldhauer

Photo by Olli Waldhauer

These days both of the clubs play in the second league while a situation of two Hapoel teams in Jerusalem isn’t easy for the two sides. At the last game between them it was hard to ignore the "traitors" shoutings which came from Hapoel Jerusalem fans."To chant other club when your club is still alive seemed to us as a radical move.The people who stayed in Hapoel Jerusalem believe that you need to stay loyal to your club, its history, and try to change things from within. Our slogan was 'you can't change your club just as you can't change your mom'." as Pini Ben Nahum, who comes from Hapoel Jerusalem fans dynasty, explained. "What makes us mad is they took the history of Hapoel Jerusalem and associate it with another club. It's practically identity theft. I think there is a some kind of betrayal against the history of the club which we are very small compared to it."

To this kind of arguments Katamon's fans keep saying they still consider themselves as Hapoel Jerusalem fans Eitan Perry: "I’ll never stop feeling I'm a fan of Hapoel Jerusalem but we had to make a dramatic move to save the team. Hapoel Katamon is just a platform for now and we never treated it as another club. Football is first of all its fans. The question whether this isn’t in fact a different club was raised in the years after its formation but in practice we try to promote a union of the clubs. Now we are closer to such a move".

Photo by Olli Waldhauer

Photo by Olli Waldhauer

In all this conflict the two fans sides can still agree on three things: the values and spirit of Hapoel, getting rid of the owner and the willing to unite under one Hapoel Jerusalem that will defeat the ideological and urban rival Beitar Jerusalem.

The symbolic name and history of a club or its fans are two core issues of the division in Jerusalem, whereas in most football clubs around the world these two principles are unified. The only thing left to wonder is which side would you take – hang on to your club’s name or history?- if this will ever happen to your club.

Photo by Olli Waldhauer

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