For some unknown reason, Israel is counted as "European" as far as football's concerned. (It's also eligible for the Eurovision Song Contest, but that's a whole other issue.) For Euro 2008, it's in the same group as England and on September 8th the 2 sides met at Wembley.
The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign organised a vigil for 2 hours before kick-off, with the theme of "Fair play for Palestinians - Kick Israeli apartheid out of football". I went along with Greg - a fellow Sabeel-er - in our first Palestinian protest since coming back from the conference.
I felt a general sense of unease about the vigil, despite believing that it was a very important thing to do. On the way there, I wore my Sabeel t-shirt over my Women in Black shirt (which has "End the Occupation" in Hebrew, Arabic & English on it). The protestors were well protected, kept behind two security fences and a line of police, on Olympic Way - the road leading up to the new stadium.
The reaction of the Israeli fans didn't surpise me. It was much the same as the reactions we saw whilst standing with Women in Black in Jerusalem. Some swore and made gestures; others took the flyers and tore them up; some said we were fascists and racists. What did surprise me was the reaction of the England fans. I'm not sure quite what I expected, but some of it shocked me.
Some took the flyers, were interested and clapped to show their support.
Others simply ignored us.
A few yelled that politics should be kept out of football. (An interesting point...)
Some told us to "go back home" - not sure if they thought we were all Palestinians, or whether they just wanted us out of Wembley. Quite a few showed their ignorance (true to form for England thugs) yelling that we'd got the wrong country - that England were playing Israel NOT Palestine!
One guy even told us that he'd support our cause once his children had a council house. Not entirely sure what his point was...
The most supreme irony was that whilst the Israelis were calling us racist, there were some England fans (not many, but noticable) who'd found a source of what seemed to be joke Orthodox hats - with fake ringlets attached! This insensitivity and ignorance was just ridiculous. Wembley's in the middle of one of the largest concentrations of Orthodox Jews in Europe - and this is how the English behave...
All in all, I was pleased to have gone. It was good to meet others who shared a passion for the cause and to share with them our experiences. But, it wasn't the best way to educate the fans - we weren't allowed to talk to them, only give out flyers. Nonetheless it was important to show Palestinian presence at the match.
More info and photos can be found here.