There was a heavy police presence at the Broadway roundabout in Belfast this evening as rival groups of demonstrators gathered on opposite sides of the ‘Rise’ sculpture ahead of Northern Ireland’s game against Israel.
At the Broadway junction, dozens of pro-Palestine demonstrators, many of them waving Palestinian flags and other banners took part in a demonstration organised by the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
One south Belfast woman, who didn’t want to be named, said she was taking part in the demonstration to show her support for the people of Palestine.
“Everybody on the Israeli football team will have served in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) which means they are responsible for murdering or injuring Palestinians. They are not welcome and we think the IFA should have cancelled the match,” she said.
At the Glenmachan Street side of the junction, a similar number of people, many carrying Israel flags and others carrying placards with ‘Ulster supports the people of Israel’ written on them, staged a counter demonstration.
One resident of The Village, who didn’t want to be named, accused the demonstrators of “supporting terrorists.”
“They are supporting terrorists, so we are just out here to show our support for the Israelis,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein, which was criticised by unionists for “politicising a football match” after calling on the IFA to cancel tonight’s international friendly, has said it will take the same stance regarding the Republic of Ireland’s UEFA Under-21 Championship game against Israel next month.
The party confirmed that it will be calling on the Football Association of Ireland not to play the match, which is scheduled to take place in Israel on October 11.
“Sinn Féin support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign which involves the economic, cultural and sporting boycott of the Israeli state,” a party spokesperson said.
“There is also a responsibility for UEFA not to put countries in the position of facing Israel in competitive fixtures by expelling them from their competitions while Israel continues its onslaught against the Palestinian people.”