The transfer of Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Holon's away games from Turkey to Bosnia is a classic story of daring to come out sweet.
Following the war, we were accustomed, having no choice, to a situation in which Israeli clubs could not host their home games in Israel and were forced to find alternative venues, such as the Pioneer Arena in the case of Hapoel Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv, and the Arena in Riga in the case of Hapoel Holon. Some of their away games were also affected to some extent: some were held without crowds or limited the number of spectators for fear of rioting, while others banned the entry of flags, especially PLO flags. The record was broken when the Turkish authorities announced that they could not guarantee public safety at the away games of Hapoel Holon and Hapoel Jerusalem in the Basketball Champions League, if they were held as planned on the stock exchange and Istanbul.
Because in both cases the headache of searching for an alternative plot fell on the Turks, something amazing happened. The eyes of the two host teams – Galatasaray, which was supposed to host Hapoel Jerusalem, and Bursaspor, which was supposed to host Hapoel Holon – turned to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia has a traditional connection to Turkey due to the fact that Muslims constitute the largest ethnic group there (about 51 percent), and if that is not enough, the basketball club Igokaa represents Bosnia in the Champions League and its home stadium in the city of Laktaşi is well known to Turkish teams.
Blacktashi Hall. The Israelis are hosting, but know well, Photo: FIBA
When it was finally decided to move both Galatasaray and Bursaspor home games against the Israelis to Bosnia, it became astonishingly clear that Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Holon would feel at home there. Although this will be less noticeable in the hall, because the games will be held without an audience, outside the support for Israel and its representatives will completely dominate and will be felt in all respects.
The explanation for this phenomenon lies in the unique complexity of Bosnia and the structure of this country. As mentioned, due to the fact that Muslims make up about half of its population, Bosnia has created an image of a Muslim country, but this is far from reflecting the whole picture. The rest of Bosnia's population is divided between Serbs (about 33 percent) and Croats (about 16 percent). They, shall we put it mildly, do not really love their Muslim compatriots, especially since the wounds of the Balkan wars accompanied by atrocities and the creation of independent Bosnia have not yet healed.
Moreover, most of Bosnia's Serbian population is concentrated in the Serbian region known as Republika Srpska and enjoys independent administration, and although it is ostensibly one state, the two parts of Bosnia act as two opposites. There is no shortage of examples, especially in the context of the confrontation between Turkey and Israel. If Bosnian capital Sarajevo and Erdogan are popular, Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska, despise them. If, following the outbreak of war between Israel and Gaza, pro-Palestinian demonstrations were seen in the streets of Sarajevo, the presidential building under construction was proudly lit up with a huge Israeli flag.
The presidential building in Banja Luka illuminated with the Israeli flag, photo: from Twitter
Here is the place to mention the President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik, whose special image dominates all its part in the Serbian regions of Bosnia. Dodik is a staunch supporter of Israel who does not hesitate to stand with the Jews and their state at every opportunity, even at risk and at personal cost. His immediate surroundings indicate that this attitude goes beyond any political considerations, and there is no better way to describe it than the word 'love.'
Dudik, a native of a village on the outskirts of Katashi, has another love. He played basketball in his youth, and when he rose to prominence translated his passion for the game to support the local team. The Igokaa company, which was associated with him, became a sponsor of the group from Laktashi. Milorad Dodik is the honorary president of the club, and his son serves as the team's CEO. In September of this year, the club celebrated its 50th anniversary, and Hapoel Jerusalem was invited to a tournament held in honor of the occasion. After the October 7 massacre, he even suggested that all Israeli teams host their games in Laktashi.
Now Milorad Dodik's two loves – for Israel and Igokaa – meet. Inspired by him, the residents of Republika Srpska are doing everything so that Hapoel Holon and Hapoel Jerusalem, and not the Turkish teams, will feel at home and wish the Israeli teams victory in the games to be held in Laktaşi today and tomorrow.
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