Israel was awash last weekend by a green invasion. Thousands of smiling Irish soccer fans drank their way to the Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa to cheer on the boys in green. This was the first major international soccer game that Israel had hosted since the start of the latest Palestinian terror campaign way back in the year 2000.The estimated four thousand Irish supporters came despite the futile appeal from the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign for them to boycott their trip to Israel. Part of their argument was to accuse Israel of being a racist state where Arabs have no rights. The campaigners scored an own-goal when they paraded an Israeli soccer shirt with the number ten on the back. The wearer of the number ten shirt on the Israeli national squad is Walid Badir, an Israeli Arab. The Irish guests were received warmly on their arrival in Israel. At the airport they were handed little gifts bearing the colours of Ireland and Israel. Where ever they went they were greeted warmly. The streets of Tel Aviv were bannered with the green of Ireland and welcome posters were everywhere.
Much is made of drunken football supporters and the damage and violence they cause. The army of Irish supporters really enjoy their drink, but they were always good natured and good humoured, and Israelis joined them in the Irish pubs. The atmosphere was hardly one of rivalry, more like chivalry as both Irish and Israeli supporters shared a drink and a joke. The Irish team, safely anchored in Herzliya were bemused and amused by the children and mothers in fancy dress when they visited the local mall. They had arrived at the height of Purim, a riotous festival of fun and laughter.
The game began badly for Israel when a double display of poor defending gave the Irish a gift of a goal within the first four minutes. The Israeli team never really came into the game until late into the second half. As the clock ticked to ninety minutes and full time all, literally, looked lost for the thousands of Israeli supporters. Then, in the last minute of the game came the final embarrassment for the Ireland Palestine Soldarity campaigners. Yet another Arab player in Israel's national squad, Abbas Suwan, blasted a low shot that even the great goalkeeper, Shay Given, could not prevent from bulging the back of the net. Many of the visitors expressed amazement that they found the true face of Israel to be much different to the one shown to them by their local and national media.
Many of the local Israelis, who had been bracing themselves for an invasion of drunken soccer louts, were surprised to discover thousands of smiling and likeable Irish folk who, like Israelis have a true love of life. And so, honours shared and mutual respect ended a weekend exhibition of friendship and good sportsmanship between the Irish and the Israelis.
Ireland and Israel - a love story.
*This View from Here letter was written by Barry Shaw, firstname.lastname@example.org