Israeli soccer player freed after court appearance in Turkey, will return to Israel

Sagiv Jehezkel appeared in court in Ankara after being taken into custody for 'incitement to hatred and hostility' following his tribute to Israeli hostages held in Gaza during a soccer match; Gallant: 'Turkey is de facto executive arm of Hamas'
Nadav Zenziper|Updated:
Israeli national soccer team player Sagiv Jehezkel was released Monday from detention in Turkey, and according to the Foreign Ministry will return to Israel. Earlier, Turkish media published the first documentation of Jehezkel in court in Antalya, after he was taken into custody and interrogated after celebrating a goal with a tribute to hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip for 100 days during a Turkish Süper Lig match.
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While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday asked ministers not to comment on the arrest due to the sensitivity and efforts to free Jehezkel, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant attacked the Turks with harsh words. "When the earth shook in Turkey less than a year ago, Israel was the first country to stand up and extend aid that saved the lives of many Turkish citizens," he said. "The scandalous arrest of the footballer Shaviv Jehezkel is an expression of hypocrisy and coercion. Through its actions, Turkey serves as the de facto executive arm of Hamas."
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שחקן אנטליהספור שגיב יחזקאל עם מחוה לחטופים
שחקן אנטליהספור שגיב יחזקאל עם מחוה לחטופים
Sagiv Jehezkel with the gesture to the hostages
(Photo: Antalyaspor official website)
Minister of Culture and Sports Miki Zohar wrote: "Throughout the night and morning the relevant parties are working on the issue of the Israeli actor Shaviv Jehezkel. We must act responsibly and speak carefully until the issue is resolved and he returns to Israel."
"Turkey has become a dark dictatorship, which works against humanitarian values and the values of sports," Foreign Minister Israel Katz said. “Anyone who arrests a soccer player over an act of identification with 136 hostages who have been held for over 100 days in the hands of a murderous terror organization represents a culture of murder and hatred.”
Jehezkel, for his part, tried to explain to the Turks that he did nothing. "I didn't do anything to provoke," the Turkish media reported that he told the police. "I want the war to end, that's why I made the gesture. I'm not in favor of war. There are Israeli soldiers captured in Gaza. I think the war should end now, that's why I showed the sign. I have nothing to do with politics, I've never done anything political since I came to Turkey, I never disrespected anyone. I just wanted to draw attention to the end of the war."
Sagiv Jehazkel enters court in Turkey
(Photo: Akdeniz Manşet Gazetesi / FOX HABER)
"I decided to make a humanitarian tribute to the Israeli hostages in Gaza," Yehezkel told Antalyaspor club officials. However, following the incident, the club announced the termination of his contract and his release from the team in a unilateral decision.
"It was important for me to emphasize that they have been in captivity for 100 days. I had no intention to provoke or express a stance on the matter. I understand the sensitivity in Turkey; it was purely a tribute," Jehezkel also said.
"Throughout my time in Turkey, I never expressed any stance on the matter," added Jehezkel. "When the club's officials informed me about a ceremony commemorating the casualties in Gaza before a match in Gaziantep and allowed me not to attend, I stayed in Antalya, and everything was fine. In essence, I drew half a heart and wrote the number 100. It wasn't intended as a provocation; quite the opposite. It's about empathy for captives who have been there for so many days. I insisted throughout my time to stay focused solely on soccer."
On Sunday evening, Jehezkel was still in contact with his concerned family, amid the rapidly unfolding developments that even prompted Turkey's justice minister to initiate an investigation against the player.
"The entire family is under tremendous pressure, hoping that things won't take a turn for the worse," one of his close associates revealed. "We've seen what they do in Turkey. They're trying to fabricate a case against him to discredit Israel, all because of a humanitarian tribute."
The Foreign Ministry instructed representatives of Jehezkel to maintain a low profile, allowing governmental officials to address the issue. The head of the Israel Football Association, Moshe Shino Zuaretz, also spoke with Jehezkel during his flight to London for a pre-planned meeting with UEFA officials. The association approved funding for a private plane to Antalya to extract Jehezkel immediately. However, moments later, Turkish team representatives informed Jehezkel that he was requested to appear for questioning at the local police station.
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שגיב יחזקאל
שגיב יחזקאל
Sagiv Jehezkel in an Israel national team uniform
(Photo: Oz Muellem)
The Turkish Football Federation issued a strong statement against Yehezkel and it does not seem that it intends to help in the matter. "We condemn the unacceptable behavior of Sagiv Yehezkel. His suspension is appropriate. Necessary procedures and disciplinary investigations against those responsible were opened immediately. The public should have no doubt that necessary measures will be taken against those responsible for this act, which offends human dignity and the conscience of Turkish society," the statement read.
There are other Israeli soccer players, and basketball players, serving on Turkish teams, including one playing for the same club as Yehezkel, whose future is unclear at the moment.
First published: 09:32, 01.15.24
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