Fans of Scotland’s Celtic Football Club have pledged to continue their display of solidarity with the people of Palestine and “show the world that the club stands with the oppressed, not the oppressor” in the wake of Israel’s ongoing attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip and despite backlash from the club’s board.
The Green Brigade, an ultras group of hardcore Celtic fans, displayed banners saying “Free Palestine” and “Victory to the resistance!!” during the club’s Scottish Premiership match against Kilmarnock in Glasgow last week.
The fans based at the North Curve section of Celtic Park unfurled large Palestinian flags before kickoff and continued to wave them during their side’s 3-1 win.
As always, Celtic fans show their support for Palestine pic.twitter.com/3IcxdF5nAc
— Aida Celtic (@aida_celtic) October 7, 2023
Two days later, the club’s board responded with a strongly worded statement saying, “Celtic is a football club and not a political organisation” and distanced itself from the fan group’s show of solidarity.
“The club has always made clear that political messages and banners are not welcome at Celtic Park, or any match involving Celtic.”
Israeli international and former Celtic midfielder Nir Bitton criticised the fans on social media, saying they had been “brainwashed”.
“Shame on you!!! Yes free Gaza from Hamas not from Israel!!” he said on Instagram.
“Supporting terror organisation who’s proudly celebrating the slaughtering of families is absolutely crazy.”
However, the fan group remained undeterred and called on all Celtic fans to raise the Palestine flag during the club’s UEFA Champions League match against Atletico Madrid on October 25.
“We must apply learning from apartheid South Africa to dismantle apartheid Israel – if we are neutral in situations of injustice, we have chosen the side of the oppressor,” the Green Brigade said in a statement this week.
“We send our sincere solidarity and prayers to our friends across all of Palestine at this traumatic time when yet again much of the international community turns its back in cowardice while war crimes are inflicted on a largely defenceless, imprisoned population,” the statement added.
— North Curve Celtic (@NCCeltic) October 10, 2023
Israel has been bombarding the Gaza Strip since Saturday after the Palestinian armed group Hamas carried out deadly attacks inside the country.
Israeli air strikes have killed more than 1,500 Palestinians and wounded more than 6,600, according to officials in the besieged enclave.
More than 1,300 people were killed and 3,000 injured in Hamas’s multipronged attack on towns in southern Israel, according to Israeli officials.
‘True values of the club’
The Green Brigade’s show of solidarity is “incredibly important to the Palestinian people, who are being bombarded and targeted”, according to Abdullah Al-Arian, associate professor of history at Georgetown University in Qatar.
“By choosing to be on the side of justice for an oppressed population, these fans are representing the true values of the club and are more in-tune with the history of the club than the current board happens to be,” Al-Arian told Al Jazeera.
Al-Arian said it is “becoming increasingly hard” to show support for the Palestinians in Western countries because some governments in Europe have banned protests against the Israeli attacks in Gaza and have threatened to ban the display of the Palestinian flag.
Al-Arian, author of the book Football in the Middle East: State, Society, and the Beautiful Game, underlined the importance of using football stadiums to raise awareness for such causes because they are “the last democratic spaces where people come together and express themselves in a way that cannot be censored, drowned out or criminalised the way that we see in the general public discourse.
“Especially as we see the posture of the media and government as being one silencing and intimidation of people who are simply standing up for human rights of the people of Palestine.
“Football matches are viewed by millions around the world where people get to witness these acts of solidarity and they help create a common bond for people who want to stand for justice for the people in Palestine.”
According to the fan group, the board’s statement “is sadly in step with much of the political and media class”, and it questioned why similar political messaging was welcome at Celtic Park to show solidarity with Ukraine but is being condemned now.
“The question on any reasonable mind should be why? Why are Ukrainian lives more sacred than Palestinian lives?” it said.
By the way, this picture (at a Celtic away match) is over ten years old.
Suppression of support for Palestine has very long been an establishment priority.
— Marco Hilley 🇵🇸 (@marcohilley) October 8, 2023
Long association with Palestine
Celtic fans have a history of supporting Palestinians and have raised funds for independent organisations working in the occupied territories.
In 2019, the Aida Celtic football academy was opened at the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank with help of funds raised by the club’s fanbase.
The club has received widespread support in all Palestinian territories in recent years, and Al-Arian said the club’s backing of the Palestinian cause offered support to people “who are on the front line in a brutal assault on their lives”.
“It tells Palestinians that people all over the world stand with them despite their respective governments taking immoral stances and turning a blind eye to the collective punishment and atrocities,” he said.
Celtic’s fierce local rival Rangers have, in turn, supported Israel whenever both teams have met in the Old Firm – local derby – fixture over the years.
The blue-and-white-kitted Glasgow club held a minute’s silence for the people killed in Israel ahead of their Premiership match last weekend.
According to Al-Arian, the contrasting stances show that football is “never really separated from politics”.
He said Celtic’s community of fans grew out of the working class segment of society and have adopted a number of causes as part of their identity.
“They use these causes to fuel their support for the club and to honour values that become deeply ingrained in the club and its fans.”
The Green Brigade said it remains “unequivocal in support for the Palestinian people”.
“We call on the Celtic support – the true custodians of Celtic Football Club – to stand on the right side of history.”
— Aida Celtic (@aida_celtic) October 10, 2023