Basketball fans in the Greek capital Athens set fire to an Israeli flag on Wednesday. The incident happened during a match between the Athletic Union of Constantinople (AEK) — a Greek team, despite its name — and Israel’s Hapoel Jerusalem team on Gameday 9 of the European Basketball Champions League.
Sporting venues have often been a favoured place for campaigners to stage protests against autocrats and serial human rights abusers. This form of political dissent played a major role in bringing down the apartheid regime in South Africa and is now, apparently, a regular feature in Athens.
Fans of AEK waved Palestinian flags during a lively protest which climaxed with the burning of the Israeli flag. Supporters of the Israeli team described the hostile reception in the Greek capital to Ynet news.
“We had heavy security protecting us,” explained Matan Ben-Harush. “We were surrounded by hundreds of police officers; we could see the fans of the other team tearing Hapoel flags before the game but there was no physical confrontation.”
Ben-Harush added that during the first quarter of the game, thousands of AEK fans entered the stadium. “We could see the Greek fans getting closer to our seats, waving Palestinian flags, and carrying pictures of [imprisoned Palestinian politician Marwan] Barghouti. The climax was when they started burning the Israeli flag.”
Another fan of Hapoel Jerusalem described the pain that he felt seeing the Israeli flag being burnt: “It hurts seeing your country’s flag being burned in front of your very eyes, and even though the way they acted was horrifying, I felt proud to have 400 Israeli fans with me who cheered and rooted like there were thousands of us.”
This is not the first time that Greek sports fans have staged a protest against Israel. Support for Palestine and resistance against Israel is often heard during sporting events.
Last year, AEK football fans called for the release of Ahed Tamimi, a teenage Palestinian girl who was at the time serving an eight-month sentence in Israel after gaining international fame for facing off against Israeli soldiers.
Earlier this year, an Israeli handball team came up against angry Greek fans during a competition in Athens, where the hosts refused to raise the Israeli flag.
It was reported that fans of the Greek handball team celebrated by dancing and carrying a Palestinian flag.