Soccer fans stand up for Palestine

Fans of Glasgow-based Scottish football club Celtic defied attempts to ban Palestinian flags at recent matches against Israeli club Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

In the qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, Celtic fans flew the red, green, black and white in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle despite threats of fines and even arrest.

The protest was led by the Green Brigade, a Celtic fan group. Marc Patrick Conaghan noted in Middle East Eye: “Celtic supporters are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause because their ancestral story is, for the most part, similar … The dispossession and hunger during the [Irish] famine – which left more than one million dead – and the devastation on the land and psyche of the survivors forced a diaspora of Irish people all over the globe. Many settled in Glasgow”.

UEFA forbids political symbols and flags from games, and previously fined Celtic for its fans’ actions. It has initiated disciplinary proceedings against the club for the latest act of solidarity.

In response to the impending fine, the Green Brigade set up a crowdfunding page to match the amount the club would be fined. The target was quickly surpassed and, as of writing, the group has raised almost $150,000, which will be sent to the Aida refugee camp outside of Bethlehem. The money will go toward medical care and support for local football.

“At the Champions League match with Hapoel Be’er Sheva on 17 August, the Green Brigade and fans throughout Celtic Park flew the flag for Palestine”, the group noted. “This act of solidarity has earned Celtic respect and acclaim throughout the world. It has also attracted a disciplinary charge from UEFA, which deems the Palestinian flag to be an ‘illicit banner’.

“In response to this petty and politically partisan act by European football’s governing body, we are determined to make a positive contribution to the game and today launch a campaign to #matchthefineforpalestine.”

In France, fans of Saint-Étienne also flew Palestinian flags during a Europa League match against Israeli club Beitar Jerusalem, whose supporters burnt down the clubhouse two years ago because the club signed a Muslim player.

Celtic fans remain staunch in their resistance to stripping football of politics and are an inspiration for other football fans who love the game but hate the increasing corporatisation of the sport.

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