Scots Wallah hae!
Hundreds of fans of Glasgow’s Celtic soccer team defied Scottish law and risked arrest by flying Palestinian flags at a Champions league game against a visiting Israeli team, Hapoel Beersheba. Celtic won the game 5-2. The team faces potential punishment from the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).
Celtic has long been the club for Glasgow’s Catholic working class, and have displayed Palestinian flags to counter their local rivals, the Rangers, the protestant favorite, who have brought Israeli flags. The flag fight mirrors similar loyalties in Belfast, across the Irish sea, where mostly Catholic Irish Republicans back the Palestinian cause as a matter of principle and sympathy. Their Protestant political opponents, the descendants of 17th century British colonialists, some remaining still fiercely behind the Queen, find more in common with Israelis, unsurprisingly. There is a popular misconception that conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been going on for centuries, when it’s really just decades. For destructive disagreement of a deeply ancient vintage, look to these ruddy headed rascals.
Threats of arrest didn’t stop Celtic fans from taking pamphlets and flags handed out by the Scottish Palestinian Activist group, Palestine Alliance. Some fans seem to have brought their own emblems, too.
There could be serious consequences for Celtic thanks to the protest, carried out in front of Israelis themselves. Fines and closures of their fans seating sections are possible, under UEFA rules. And a 2012 Scottish law against provocative political speech at sporting events makes the flag display an arrestable offense, although authorities reportedly did not take the offending fans into custody. There were dozens of them, photographs show.
Although the flag politics of the region are contrarian. The feelings of political solidarity are real.
“Since at least the late 80’s Palestine flags have been seen at Celtic Park and Celtic fans have shown their support for the Palestinians. Celtic fans have always had a radical history with support for Irish resistance to British rule and it is from there that support for Palestine stems. Also following support for Palestine among other football and sports fans and figures,” reads a Facebook page called Celtic Fans for Palestine, with about 3,300 members.
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) will weigh what could happen, but it might involve the closing of some of the stands in the stadium for a Champions league game, writes Neil Cameron in the Herald, a Scottish paper, in an opinion piece chiding protesters for risking the forfeiture of other fans tickets. European football carries out collective punishment against fans, apparently.
Cameron’s basic argument was that the Palestine fans at Celtic games should have a right to fly the flag, but in flouting both league rules and Scottish government laws meant to quell nationalist threats and incitement at games, they are threatening fellow fans, and making it potentially unsafe for them to travel to Israel to see their team play in Israel. Cameron is suspicious to some extent not of the sincerity of feelings for Palestine, but of the age of the fans preventing them from really understanding the meaning of the now positively retro IRA-PLO alliance.
“Both sides will tell you that’s it is part of their culture and the history of Ireland is something which deeply afflicts them. This is actually fair enough, although most of the singers look too young to remember the Troubles and very few are from Ireland, either north or south of the border. This is why the many football regulars who can’t be bothered with all of this roll their eyes when earnest young men talk about such matters as if they lived through it. That’s akin to watching Star Wars a bunch of times and claiming you know what it’s like to work in space,” Cameron put it.
But it’s also possible that some of the lads at the soccer game are there as advocates for Palestine, and not just as a proxy for Irish Republicanism. After all, those aspirations have been on hold for the last two decades, and the Troubles have subsided into the sad peace after the Good Friday accords. Meanwhile, Scotland’s government at Holyrood has made its own moves for independence from the United Kingdom, and offered Palestine a place in Edinburgh to found its first European consulate.
“Recognition of Palestine’s right to self determination is a vital step in advancing the peace process. The support of influential nations like Scotland provides legitimacy to our claims under international law, forces Israel to think twice before committing acts of aggression and will enable us to sit at the negotiating table as an equal state,” said Manuel Hassassian, Palestine’s envoy to the UK.
“Scotland’s recognition of Palestine and the support we receive from its people has long been way ahead of what we are seeing from Westminster today. It is vital, because with every action from the continued land grabs to its attempts to drive the Bedouin out of the Jordan Valley, Israel is demonstrating that it has no interest in negotiating a solution at this stage.”