Belfast Telegraph

Protest held in Belfast ahead of Northern Ireland vs Israel match

By Gareth Cross

A protest was held in west Belfast on Tuesday before Northern Ireland's friendly match with Israel at Windsor Park.

Around 50 people gathered with Palestinian and Starry Plough flags near the Rise sculpture in west Belfast.

A small counter-protest was held in the area by people with Northern Ireland and Union Jack flags.

Police maintained a presence in the area while the protests were ongoing.

Sinn Fein and pro-Palestine group BDS Ireland had called for the game to be called off due to the ongoing violence between Israel and Palestine.

BDS Ireland also called for a boycott of groups that provided sponsorship and funding to the Irish Football Association (IFA).

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a global campaign which promotes various boycotts against Israel due to its treatment of Palestine over disputed lands in the West Bank area.

More than 5,000 people signed a petition calling for the game to be called off.

The Northern Ireland Friends of Israel group said attempts to "politicise the game were sad" while the IFA had insisted that for them the fixture is just another game.

Northern Ireland won the game 3-0 with goals from Steven Davis, Stuart Dallas and Gavin Whyte on his debut.

South Down MLA Sinead Ennis said the IFA had "disregarded the rights of Palestinians by allowing the game to go-ahead.

“Since the outset, we have lobbied the IFA to cancel this match in the same way that the Argentinian national team pulled out of a pre-World Cup game with Israel," the Sinn Fein MLA said.

“Whilst the Israeli national team are free to travel and flourish worldwide, the Palestinian national team are blocked from doing so due to disgraceful restrictions placed on citizens in the West Bank and the Israeli created open air prison of Gaza.

“Sports teams, musicians and actors have drawn international attention in recent months through support for the Boycott, Divestment & Sanction campaign against Israel. The IFA should heed these calls."

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said that calls to boycott the game from Sinn Fein were "the latest in the party’s ever-expanding list of boycotts".

“Sinn Fein’s approach to outreach presently appears to be searching for new boycotts to initiate. Not content with refusing to sit in Westminster, the Assembly and the Executive, republicans are branching out to sports and culture," the East Londonderry MP said.

"Having called for a boycott of the Eurovision Song Contest, Sinn Fein’s latest target is Northern Ireland’s international friendly against Israel. Their calls for players to pull out of the match are typical of Sinn Fein, whose desire is to use a cloak of self-righteous protest to polarise and divide wherever possible.

"It says much about Sinn Fein to contrast how exercised the party and many of its public representatives are about an international friendly football match compared to the fact that people in Northern Ireland are suffering as a direct consequence of Sinn Fein’s refusal to govern."

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