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Israel: Hapoel Tel Aviv supporters mourn fan's death

Felix Tamsut
November 9, 2023

Among those Hamas killed on October 7 were some supporters of Hapoel Tel Aviv, an Israeli sports club known for its cohesive Jewish and Arab fanbase. Omer Hermesh, a figure every Hapoel fan knew, was one of them.

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Omer Hermesh's grave with Hapoel Tel Aviv scarves and flags over it
Fellow supporters left Hapoel Tel Aviv scarves and flags at Omer Hermesh's graveImage: Roee Politi

We are marching forward

To the stadium's gates

Carrying a red scarf

We're roaring the anthem

You'll never walk alone, Hapoel Tel Aviv

(Hapoel Tel Aviv's anthem)

Tel Aviv is a city that is no stranger to graffiti and street art. In the past few weeks, however, many of the city's walls have been covered with names: Those of Hapoel Tel Aviv fans killed by Hamas on October 7.

One of the names written on the walls of the self-proclaimed City that Never Sleeps is that of Omer Hermesh. Hermesh, a Kibbutz Kfar Aza native, was among the club's best-known fans.

"Forever red" is written on a wall dedicated solely to Hermesh. The club's main ultra group, Ultras Hapoel, signed it, citing the club's anthem: "You'll never walk alone!"

Omer Hermesh holds the Israeli Cup.
Omer Hermesh was a long-time Hapoel Tel Aviv fanImage: privat

Hamas attacks Kfar Aza

On the morning of October 7, after Hamas had entered Israel's territory, he posted on Facebook that he had been injured as a result of shots fired at his home by the Islamist militant group but that he had survived the attack.

"I'm lucky to be alive," he wrote. "Regarding my injury, worry not. My hand may be full of blood, but it clotted right away."

This was the last sign of life from Hermesh. On October 18, 11 days after he was listed as missing, his body was identified, causing shock among Hapoel Tel Aviv's supporters across the country.

'Something will always be missing'

According to Uri Maiselman, who knew Hermesh from his many childhood visits to Kfar Aza, Hermesh was known for giving young supporters a feeling of belonging. One way he did this was to provide them with nicknames. At the funeral, people were asked to write the nickname Hermesh had given them on a piece of cardboard and hold it up for all to see. Some 70 people did so. 

"People felt like someone saw them and paid attention to them, that to Omer, they were someone," Maiselman told DW.

Lucy Joshua, another Hapoel Tel Aviv fan, said that while she didn't know Hermesh personally, it felt like he was a big part of the Hapoel support nonetheless.

"He didn't give me a nickname," she told DW, "but you had the feeling he was always there."

John is a match-going Hapoel Tel Aviv supporter who is also a member of Israel's Arab minority. He spoke to DW on the condition that his real name not be used.

"I didn't know any of the victims personally, but in a way, I feel I did know them," he said.

The faces, the voices, he said, are familiar to every match-going fan.

"Something will definitely be missing forever."

Hapoel Tel Aviv fans affected by attacks

We've traveled throughout the country

Everywhere, in every corner,

The heart is red, the name: Hapoel

And again, the melody is being heard.

Instead of football stadiums and basketball arenas, Hapoel Tel Aviv fans had to travel across the country for tragic reasons in the past month. At Hermesh's funeral, thousands of Hapoel Tel Aviv supporters sang their club's anthem. Supporters of other clubs were affected, too.

Some 30 of the club's fans were killed on October 7 by Hamas, which the EU, US, Germany, Israel and others consider a terrorist organization. A few more were taken to Gaza as hostages.

According to Israeli officials, Hamas killed more than 1,400 people during the attacks, and the militant group seized about 240 hostages.

Many Hapoel Tel Aviv fans were among the victims because many of the club's supporters live in a kibbutz, a form of community in which everyone works together, contributing their skills on a voluntary, non-competitive basis.

A wall covered with graffiti in memory of Omer Hermesh
A wall in Tel Aviv covered with graffiti in memory of Omer Hermesh

"Hapoel Tel Aviv is a club established from the workers' movement and traditionally, so were the Kibbutzim," long-time Hapoel fan Lucy Joshua explained.

Some kibbutzim affected by the October 7 attacks were Nir Oz, Be'eri and Kfar Aza, where Hermesh lived.

Coexistence in the terraces under threat?

Our home is Ussishkin

We'll never replace it

We love you Hapoel

The Red Devils!

Hapoel Tel Aviv's supporters are known for their diversity, and it's one of two clubs — the other being Maccabi Haifa — that are notable for having a significant number of fans among Arab Israelis. Despite the current war between Israel and Hamas spurring a wave of racism against Israeli citizens of Palestinian descent, the three Hapoel Tel Aviv fans that DW spoke to don't expect the overall tolerant nature of their supporters to change.

"We're strong, and this will only make us stronger," said John, also mentioning that many Hapoel fans from the Arab minority joined their Jewish friends from the stands and attended the funerals.

"The love for Hapoel Tel Aviv is all that matters to us, and this will never change," he added.

Hapoel Tel Aviv's stand, full of red and white flags and pyrotechnics.
Hapoel Tel Aviv fans followed their basketball team to an away game in Hamburg last seasonImage: Marcus Brandt/picture alliance/dpa

"Hapoel is also Yaffo," said Maise lman, thinking ahead to the day after the war is over. Yaffo is the part of Tel Aviv in which Jews and Arabs live together. The area is near the club's Bloomfield Stadium.

"That doesn't mean everything will be perfect because in this country, nothing is perfect, but standing together gives people strength."

Lucy Joshua agrees.

"For us, it doesn't matter where you're from and who you are, as long as you're Hapoel," she said.

"As Omer Hermesh himself once said: We might be famous for being sharp with our words, but we aren't racists!"

Edited by: Chuck Penfold

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Felix Tamsut Sports reporter@ftamsut