by Liam McLaughlin • Voice readers will be probably be aware that in the most recent home match in the Uefa Champions League, Celtic fans were beamed across TV screens and social media channels around the world in a show of peaceful and dignified solidarity with the oppressed people of occupied Palestine as the team took on the Israeli champions, Hapoel Be’er Sheva.
The purpose of this article however is not to merely lay out the events of that night but to add some context and attempt to showcase the deeper significance of the actions of the fans, from the perspective of someone who is both a passionate supporter of the Palestinian cause and of Glasgow Celtic.
The first things to set out immediately is to address the argument surrounding relationship of politics with sport and in particular its relationship with football.
Given the history of Celtic is that of a club formed to support the oppressed and poor of the Irish diaspora who settled in the East End of Glasgow in the aftermath of the Irish potato famine, to not have highlighted the increasingly volatile and harrowing reality of the Israeli occupation and settlement of Palestine while the Israeli champions took to the field of Celtic Park would have in itself have been a political statement.
As is the very decision of Uefa to allow Israeli football teams to even have any involvement in its competitions.
This is of course done while Palestinian kids playing football on the beaches of Gaza are being murdered and Palestinian professional footballers are held in Israeli jails without trial or charge.
The reaction to the protest, with images from the occupied Gaza Strip and the West Bank showing Celtic and Scottish emblems being projected onto buildings and banners fills me with immense pride.
Pride that the actions of a group of fans in a corner of Glasgow’s East End have reached a people under siege and reminded them that their cause is one with international support and perhaps given them much needed strength and solidarity.
Pride that a group of largely working class people, united in their political beliefs and their love of their club stuck two fingers up to the corrupt individuals who unfortunately rule the roost at the head of European football and refused to be bowed by their intimidation and threats to try silence or discourage their democratic right to peaceful protest and of political expression.
What fills me with the most pride however is the still ongoing #MatchtheFineforPalestine crowd funder. Originally set at the ambitious target of £15,000, the cash raised is now nearing its £188,800 final target (Celtic formed in 1888).
Every penny of this crowdsourced fundraising will be subsequently split between Medical Aid for Palestinians and a health and social centre in occupied Palestine providing support and sporting facilities for the people there.
Word has reached us back in Glasgow that the intention is to start and fund a football team within the centre which will include the name Celtic.
Perhaps the most prevalent point in regards to the demonstration is the sheer volume of media attention the demonstration received both within Scotland and in the rest of the world, and the comparative tone of the coverage received.
Football in Scotland remains one of the main pillars of working class life largely untouched following the brutal assault on our workplaces and communities in the name of neoliberalism, deregulation and subsequent austerity.
Football has the power to bring tens of thousands of people together and be a force for good, political education and solidarity within people who would otherwise consider politics to be something distant and for the elites of society.
A small price to pay
We are however continually mocked, demonised and attacked in the press and by politicians here in Scotland as we remain the only section of society uniquely subject to legislation limiting our right to political expression within the confines of our chosen Saturday afternoon entertainment.
The fans’ actions that evening will result a fine for our club, however in the grand scheme of things I’m sure it’s one Voice readers will agree is a small price to pay for shining the light on the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine.
For those in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, sport and every aspect of their life are affected by political decisions made by the Israeli government. If our actions have helped raise awareness of that reality and given those people some hope and strength, no fine in the world could deter us.