Scottish Soccer Fans Fly the Flag For Celtic, For Justice, For Palestine

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The crowd in Glasgow. Reuters photo.

Defying a ban on political or "provocative" demonstrations by the European governing soccer body UEFA, hometown Scottish fans waved a sea of Palestinian flags at a playoff game between their Glasgow Celtics and Israel’s Hapoel Be'er-Sheva to express solidarity with Palestinians and opposition to the Israeli Occupation. The action by fans of the Celtic club, which grew from Irish Catholic working class communities and their fight against British colonialism in Northern Ireland, is the latest in a decades-long history of supporting Palestinian rights through groups like the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Committee, Celtic Fans for Palestine, No2BrandIsrael, and Palestine Alliance. The Alliance organized this week's demonstration, distributing the flags and leaflets on the Nakba, urging Celtic fans to support the BDS movement, and arguing that "football, UEFA and Celtic are being used to whitewash Israel’s true nature and give this rogue state an air (of) acceptance it should not enjoy."
Many Celtic supporters agree: In 2012, they supported Palestinian hunger strikers; two years ago, they got fined for flying Palestinian flags at another game; and they argue that under UEFA's own rules, Israel should be banned for its "system of apartheid laws and practices... military occupation and segregation of what remains of Palestinian land.” Unimpressed, the UEFA has instead opened disciplinary proceedings against Celtic for displays of an "illicit banner" under a rule that forbids "gestures, words (or) objects to transmit any message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature." Defiant fans say they are willing to pay the Club's fines in the name of solidarity. "The Scots do love an underdog," says Glasgow resident and Celtic fan Abdul Hussain. "Celtic fans will support the cause of Palestine, regardless of the rules in place. (This) match is not a first for Celtic support for Palestine, and certainly not the last." Especially since Celtic will now advance, having defeated Israel 5-2.

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