Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer club will take on Turkey's Besiktas on Thursday in a Europa League match. On the backdrop of the diplomatic crisis, this game has become much more than a sports competition.
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Besiktas' management is well aware of the fact that if the diplomatic crisis makes its way to the stadium in the form of riots or violence against Maccabi fans, the Turkish club will be heavily penalized by UEFA.
Besiktas spokesman Kursat Kaplan told Yedioth Ahronoth on Tuesday, "I believe that the political issues will not be part of the game. Maccabi Tel Aviv's audience will receive right security from the moment it lands till the final whistle blows. Strict security checks will be held at the entrance to the stadium, and torches or Palestine flags will be banned.
Turkish police have declared that any Israeli fan caught with a torch would be jailed for six to nine month, before trial.
Tensions between the two countries have heightened with Israel's refusal to apologize for the deaths of nine activists in a raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship last year. Israel has expressed regret but refuses to apologize, saying its troops acted in self-defense, prompting Ankara to downgrade its relations with Jerusalem.
Maccabi considered forbidding players serving in the IDF to fly to Turkey, fearing they would be arrested, but eventually decided to let the soldiers travel as well.
For many in Israel and Turkey, this match symbolizes a battle for their dignity, which no one intends to lose.
'Israeli' area in İnönü Stadium (Photo: Reuven Schwartz)
But among the two teams' fans, there are those making huge efforts to prove that they are the only ones demonstrating a real sports spirit. In response to Besiktas fans' threats to offer their guests the traditional Turkish Delights, Maccabi fans are heading to Istanbul with a particularly sweet baggage – 100 kilograms of toffee.
A group of Maccabi fans met Monday with representatives of Carmit Candy Industries, which donated the sweets for the reconciliation effort. The toffee will be divided between the 250 Israeli fans leaving for Turkey on Thursday.
If Turkish customs officers decide to detain the Israeli passengers, as they did last week, and check their bags – they'll likely be surprised to find thousands of sweets with Hebrew captions.
"It'll be proof that politics and sports have nothing to do with each other," explained Maccabi fan Liron Moshe, 23. "Ahead of the game we checked out Turkish fans' blogs. They wrote that as far as they're concerned, sports and politics should not be mixed and they are planning to welcome us with Turkish Delights."
The national Turkish sweet is a symbol of hospitality, so the Israeli fans decided to offer their own gesture. Although most of the candy will be yellow – the color of Maccabi – the Turks will be offered red sweets as well, matching Besiktas' color.
"It's be a joyous occasion," Moshe estimated. "We'll bring along Israeli flags and represent the State respectably. We're just worried about what might happen if we win and make the Turkish fans mad."
Turkish fans warn of 'explosive situation'
Meanwhile, Besiktas has called on its fans not to cause trouble during the match.
Besiktas board member Orhan Saka told the state-run Anatolia news agency Tuesday that fans should behave within the rules of "fair play." He warned that Besiktas could face punishment for unruly behavior.
Saka's comments followed a meeting between club officials, police and Istanbul's governor's office to discuss security for the game. The Turks are not taking any chances, and in order to prevent clashes the Israelis will be seated in a guarded and fenced cage-like area without any escapeway.
The Maccabi fans will be surrounded by hundreds of security officers – about 15 guards for each fan.
Signs calling on Maccabi Tel Aviv to stay away from Turkey were seen Tuesday during an anti-Israel protest in Ankara.
Several Besiktas fans told Ynet that despite the efforts to prevent clashes, "This is an explosive situation which may burst within the stadium, especially if political activists disguised as fans try to protest during the game."
Gidi Lipkin and AP contributed to this report
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