Match the Fine For Palestine: The Higher You Build Your Barriers, the Taller We Become
In what one admirer calls "a brilliant generous gesture... telling Palestinians they have not been forgotten,” activist fans of Scotland's Celtics soccer team - the working-class, historically progressive community already facing punishment for flying Palestinian flags at a recent game against Israel to protest the Occupation - have launched a defiant fundraiser to match their likely upcoming fine, thus "hugging tighter" an oppressed population with which they've long felt a kinship. The Celtics plan to give the proceeds - their original goal of $20,000 quickly grew to a flood of about $200,000 - to two Palestinian charitable groups.
Europe's ruling soccer body UEFA has already announced disciplinary proceedings against Celtic for its display of an “illicit banner” at a game against Israel's Hapoel Be'er Sheva team a couple of weeks ago. The act of solidarity was one of many over the years by a largely Irish Catholic community with a strong sense of affinity for the Palestinian struggle against colonization. With over 1,200 Scots of Palestinian origin, their own history of occupation and an ongoing sense of being underdogs in Scotland, says historian Tom Devine, "Part of their sense of communal identity is that sense of grievance about what was done in the past. People who are Irish nationalists will always tend to support independence movements they believe to be based on historical justice."
To further protest what they charge is UEFA's "petty and politically partisan” stance, Celtic fans known as the Green Brigade launched #MatchTheFineforPalestine, with their initial goal of £15,000 (about $20,000) the rough equivalent of their last fine for Palestinian solidarity. In a few days they'd raised over three times that, from fans of Celtic and teams around the world to non-soccer fans who care about Palestine. The money will be split between Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP), a UK-based group working with local health providers to care for Palestinians worst affected by the conflict, and the Lajee Center, a Palestinian cultural center in Aida Refugee Camp that seeks to offer young people "hope and an escape from the realities of life under Israeli occupation." Last year, Aida's only soccer field was severely damaged by Israeli tear gas canisters; the Celtic money will be used to expand arts programs, support soccer leagues and tournaments from refugee camps across the West Bank, and create Aida's first team - Aida Celtic.
This week, despite a playoff loss, Celtic advanced to Champions League group stages with an aggregate 5-4 win over Hapoel Be'er Sheva; they were put in the "Group of Death," which they may or may not survive. But for large numbers of Palestinians, Celtic are already big winners. Many have praised their actions "in the true spirit of the game...They have transformed their passion into a genuine force for good." There have been hashtags, videos and projections of the Celtic crest in Ramallah. Lajee workers say the birth of a shiny new Aida Celtic might be the best gift of all. "It will mean so much to our young people to be part of an official team," he says, "to have boots and strips and represent the camp wearing the colors of our friends." And - unspoken but vital - to know they have friends, period, in a world where they too often feel forsaken. Because, just sometimes, it doesn't take much.