There’s Nothing Illicit about Solidarity

CqFudYCW8AE1mBWLiam O’Hare on the wider impact of Celtic fans display of solidarity with the people of Palestine.

On Wednesday evening Celtic hosted Manchester City in a frantic and pulsating Champions League tie. After a few years in the European doldrums, the game was evidence that the club were back mixing it with the best that the continent has to offer. Meanwhile, the cauldron-like atmosphere proved once again that there a few places quite like the east end of Glasgow on nights like these.

But it was something else that happened thousands of miles away that illustrated just how global a reach the game can have. The same day as the match in Glasgow, Pink Floyd icon Roger Waters was playing a concert at the Foro Sol arena in New Mexico. As he closed his set with the song Fearless, the screens behind projected images of a Palestine display at Celtic Park in the recent game Hapoel Be’er Sheva, a team from Israel.

The display was organised by the Green Brigade, a group of Celtic fans much maligned in the press. You’ll probably have heard of them before. They’re the people that the Scottish media likes to refer to as bampots, idiots and hooligans. Yet it’s no exaggeration to say that this was a show of solidarity that has reverberated positively around the globe, with the latest evidence of this in Mexico City the other night.

The display has led to a chain reaction in European football too. A week later St Etienne fans waved Palestinian flags in their Europa League tie against Beitar Jerusalem, while fans and activists staged a protest outside the stadium when Irish side Dundalk took on Maccabi Tel Aviv in Ireland on Thursday evening.

The action was even applauded by some politicians from the SNP which, it has to be said, is more than a tad hypocritical considering the party is the creator of a law which effectively criminalises political expression.

The day after the Roger Waters concert, UEFA decided to fine Celtic for the action claiming that the fans’ broke rules by flying an “illicit banner”. How a national flag can be viewed as illegal by European football’s governing body remains perplexing. Nevertheless, the response to the disciplinary proceedings led to a gesture arguably more powerful than the initial action.

When threats of a fine were reported, the Green Brigade launched the #MatchTheFineforPalestine campaign with the proceeds of the crowdfunder going towards good causes in the militarily occupied country. Not only did they succeed in matching the fine (£8,200), they raised more than twenty times it. At latest count the figure going towards Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Lajee Cultural Centre stood at a staggering £173,000. The cheques will be awarded to both charities outside Celtic Park at an upcoming game (unfortunately the club have refused permission for the ceremony to take place inside the stadium).

But what have we learned from this episode? Well, it’s clear that the “what’s waving a few flags going to do?” argument, made by many before the game, has been well and truly blown out the water. This is evident from the response from Palestinians which has warm and thankful. One message I received from a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon encapsulates the sentiment. It read “Celtic fans did not just raise a flag, they raised their voices, they raised awareness and most importantly they raised hope.”

The action also showed the worth in defying the football authorities. They are quick to emphasise that they want to keep politics out of football. But sometimes things are too important, too unjust to just turn a blind eye to. FIFA recognised this in 1960 when they banned apartheid South Africa from its association. They weren’t reinstated until the system of racial segregation fell 30 years later. There is a strong case to be made for similar action against Israel.

Nobody should need reminding of the gravity of the situation. The ethnic cleansing, occupation and repression of the Palestinian people has been going on for decades. The Gaza Strip remains an open air prison which every few years is flattened by aerial bombardment. Israel should not be treated like a normal state precisely because it does not behave like one.

The impunity of the country in football terms was put under the spotlight by a recent report by Human Rights Watch. The NGO has accused FIFA of supporting violations of human rights by allowing the Israel Football Association to play league games on occupied land in the West Bank.

Human Rights Watch has has called on FIFA to compel the IFA to move all official games to inside the internationally recognised borders of Israel. This latest development follows attempts made last year by the Palestinian Football Authority to have their Israeli counterparts banned from the organisation.

It is clear that Israel cannot act with impunity forever. But for the authorities to take action it needs pressure from below. When it comes to football, that means action from supporters on the terraces to show they won’t accept the status quo.

By refusing to bow to UEFA’s threats, the Green Brigade did exactly that. They showed courage and conviction by taking a stand against injustice regardless of the consequences. Let’s hope others continue to follow suit.

Comments (30)

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  1. Malcolm Kerr says:

    Otherwise great article but marred by: “The action was even applauded by some politicians from the SNP which, it has to be said, is more than a tad hypocritical considering the party is the creator of a law which effectively criminalises political expression.” Just how is this hypocritical? Criminalises political expression? For better or worse, the OBFA (presuming this is the law being referred to) ‘criminalises’ offensive sectarianism. Are we expecting a prosecution following the Celtic fans support for The Palestinians? Don’t think so!

    1. Wullie Broon says:

      “‘criminalises’ offensive sectarianism” You don’t have a clue. The word ‘sectarian’ is not mentioned in the OB act. The whole idea of this ‘act’ was born out of blatant electioneering by the SNP .

  2. Scott Young says:

    Give me a break. I work with green brigade guys. They are as bitter and bigoted as that orange lot.
    They are just jumping on a band wagon to try and disguise there nostalgia for the good old Ira days.
    Scotland new this scum like a hole in the head.

    1. VC says:

      One day Scott you’ll jump out you’re wee goldfish bowl like Nemo, and realise there’s a big wide world out there.

    2. Wullie Broon says:

      And as for you Scott Young. Stop telling lies.

    3. Blake says:

      So oppressed people dont count? Just your hatred of football followers. Piss off

      1. Bill says:

        So Blake, you think a football match is the place to take a political stance in another country and contibent?

    4. Richard MacKinnon says:

      I thought it was an impressive display of support. It did not go unnoticed in Palestine or Israel.
      Well done the Green Brigade.

  3. Charlie Kelly says:

    Funny never heard of the orange ever doing anything for anybody or anything GB arrange food bank collections football tournaments for refugee’s and amazing sum for Palestine charities and as far as good old IRA days no such a thing they suffered under the tyranny of British similar as many countries to make Britain great so know your facts MrYoung before critizing them

    1. Bill says:

      what does that mean; food bank collections? money for food banks or reappropriating food banks stock for another purpose? Just asking.

  4. Phelim Grehan says:

    Israel is doin to Palestinian women and children what hitler done on the Jews the whole world can see what’s goin on but Americans Britain will back Israelies because they are selling them weapons and it was the British who caused most of the problems when they were there themselves like every country they have even been the Brits there is war now we as a nation in Ireland give full support to Palestine and will never stop highlighting what the Jews are doin

    1. Bill says:

      Problem is Phelim, Celtic is in Scotland, part of the United Kingdom, not Ireland. We don’t see Palestinian flags at other sporting events in Ireland. Why save them for the cauldron of Parkhead if not to antagonise. The irony is if Britain were supporting Palestine, you would be flying Israeli banners. The hypocrisy is incredible.

      1. Sorry Bill – who is being ‘antagonised’?

        1. Adam Curtis says:

          Editor, are you not moving towards deleting this comment? The tinge of antisemitism in throwing accusations at ‘the Jews’, as well as bizarre Holocaust comparisons, don’t exactly belong on a progressive blog, and certainly don’t help the Palestinian cause.

      2. Malcolm Kerr says:

        Bill. It’s hard to see how Celtic supporters can be responsible for what other people do or don’t do in other countries. British policy over 70 years is largely responsible for the plight of the Palestinians today. Have to agree with you, though, when you say “problem is Scotland is part of the U.K.” It certainly is a problem!

        1. Bill says:

          No Malcolm, you clearly misunderstood or chose to bend to suit your agenda. My reference is it is a problem that Celtic is Scottish not that it is a problem that Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. That works fine for me. It is clear that although based in the East End of Glasgow, Celtic is about as Scottish as a tajine which is why the republicans in Ireland latch on to that club. But let’s face it, if Britain didn’t have a relationship with Isreal, the good people of Ireland wouldn’t give a shit about the Palestinians. With ‘peace’in Ireland for a number of years now, it is clear it is only on the surface based on the comments here. When things are consigned to history, we move on. clearly not for you guys. But, the message remains, don’t bullshit us that the Green Brigade has become a peaceful Human rights group looking at world peace. It is formed by bigoted sectarians hell bent on anything but peace and with your comment to support it, anything anti British. For that Celtic supporters can and should be blamed. For the so called Scots amongst the supporters it is nothing less than treason, but that is when they claim to be Irish. Instead if Scotland out if the UK perhaps it would be better Celtic out of Scotland.

      3. Tony Hendrix says:

        Bill,there have been umpteen marches for the Palestinians in Ireland trust me on this.

        1. Josef O Luain says:

          Yep, my wife and I, on too many occasions, have marched with thousands of others (no exaggeration) from Dublin’s Parnell Square to the Israeli embassy to register our protest against the barbaric actions of the I.D.F. in Gaza.

    2. peter says:

      Not Jews my friend but zionists. Jews are treated badly also and you can find proof of this if you do a search.

  5. Joe Mcfarlane says:

    Give us all a break Scott,no whataboutery please.The display was well meant and well received by people who are living in that benighted region.Scum’s an overused word and shows exactly where your coming from.Chase yersel son your on the wrong site.

    1. Bill says:

      Joe, if it us a restricted audience that pays lip service you are looking for then perhaps slapping it over Facebook is a bad plan. Then you ate likely to get opposing views.

  6. Bryan Weir says:

    “Scum” may be a bit strong but I am largely with Scott on this. Peel back the flags and behind them you will find thousands of bitter and bigoted people using this as an attempt to legitimise their existence. I saw no evidence of these same fans using “courage and conviction” to stop the shameful hanging of effigies of their opponents in the recent old firm game. No matter how you cut it football bigots from either side are not nice people.

    It does not take courage or conviction to fly a flag of any colour at a football game. These guys were never going to be jailed for it. Their club bears the brunt of any punitive action, which is no more than a token in these cases. Courage would have been actively removing these effigies to show that they are against displays of bigotry and hatred of this kind.

    The flag display did get some publicity and it certainly did no harm but upholding a gesture like this as being somehow brave and honourable shows a distinct lack of understanding of the real reasons for it. A limited few of the members of the “Green Brigade” could tell you something about the Israeli/Palestine problem but I suspect that many of them are just joining in with their peers in a football stunt. How many of them are actively campaigning for Palestine outside of Celtic Park?

    Perhaps a better way of protesting against Israeli action in Palestine would be for the fans to refuse to attend the matches and donate their ticket money to the Palestine cause? Wouldn’t a boycott and an empty stadium send a clearer message and also get more publicity?

    1. Brian McNulty says:

      Actually, that’s EXACTLY what happened; a couple of neds (no more, just a couple, out of 60k odd) hung a couple of blow-up dolls from the rafters of the stands and were promptly told to remove them by the surrounding supporters.

      1. Bryan Weir says:

        Three have been arrested so far.

  7. William Davidson says:

    I think if you are going to protest against the violation of human rights, you have to be careful not to appear to be selective in your choice of target. While there can be no doubt that the Israeli government has been guilty of such violations and has maintained its illegal occupation of the West Bank since 1967, many other states have arguably worse records, yet never seem to attract the same condemnation from the Green Brigade, or other pressure groups. China, for example, is a one-party dictatorship, with no human or democratic rights, has occupied Tibet for many years, discriminates against religious and ethnic minorities, yet I don’t expect to see anti-Chinese protests at Parkhead any time soon. Ditto Russia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. Quatar, Kazahstan, etc, etc.
    The Green Brigade also lays itself open to the charge of hypocrisy in the sense that its members seem to be uncritical supporters of physical force Irish Republicanism and, more specifically the campaign of the Provisional I.R.A. between 1970 and 1996. The latter organisation displayed no concern whatsoever for human rights during its long campaign, a lack of concern apparently shared by the Green Brigade. So, a conspicuous concern for Palestinian human rights, but none for others suffering at the hands of other regimes and definitely none for the numerous people of all religious backgrounds who suffered at the hands of Republican paramilitaries in Ireland and elsewhere.

    1. Bryan Weir says:

      Good points very well made William.

    2. So in summary, if you are going to protest something you must protest everything?

      1. William Davidson says:

        Yes. Concern for human rights should surely be universal and immutable. Celtic played a Kazahk team earlier in the C.L., surely the perfect opportunity for the G.B. to mount a protest against the appalling human rights record of the Kazakh dictator, but I don’t recall any such protest. The Green Brigade’s concern would seem to be somewhat narrow and selective and in the case of those Irish Republican organisations whose methods and aims it supports, any concern for the human rights of their victims would seem to be non-existent. Or perhaps I’m doing them wrong and we can look forward to a display of banners bearing portraits of some of the 639 civilians killed by the I.R.A, the vast majority just a short distance away on the other side of the North Channel.

  8. Malcolm Kerr says:

    Israel is killing a lot more people than the IRA ever did – 1462 civilians (including 551 children) in 2014 alone, for example. You seem to be suggesting that Palestinian deaths are less important. Also the tragic record of IRA terror is now historic, as their campaign ended in 1996. The GB protest was therefore topical and appropriate. I’m pleased to see football supporters interested in human rights. You have to start somewhere.

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