Football against imperialism: What Celtic FC's solidarity with Palestine can teach the world

Celtic FC fans display Palestine flags.

As the 2018 World Cup frenzy starts to take over the news cycle, it is crucial to highlight examples of how the sport has brought people together. Michael Blosser writes that one example is the case of Celtic FC and Palestine, with the Glasgow-based club showing consistent solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. 

The question asked by many isn’t whether the Palestinian cause is worthy of support — it clear is — but why Celtic and its fans have so consistently offered support while many others haven’t.

Celtic FC was founded in Glasgow, Scotland in 1887 by Brother Walfrid, with the intent of helping the poor immigrant Irish population who had fled to Scotland after being displaced from their lands, Many fled from the hunger enveloping their land back home.

At that time, Scotland was primarily Protestant and treated Irish Catholics as second-class citizens, with open prejudice and hostility. Glasgow Rangers FC, arch-rivals of Celtic, traditionally drew support from the city’s Protestant community, with fans often supporting pro-British causes.

Irish struggle

Celtic FC became a symbol of the Irish struggle against British imperialism. But it also became something the migrant Irish community could join together to rally behind. Support for the Irish struggle has had strong ties with Celtic FC throughout the years, with fans singing songs supporting Irish republicanism — especially if it was against Rangers FC.

Many Celtic fans sympathise with Palestine’s struggle because they see similarities between its fight against Israeli colonialism and Ireland’s struggle against British imperialism.

The issues faced by the Irish should be seen in their own unique context, but they do bear some similarities to those faced by Palestinians. That is not to suggest the struggles are equal, as they aren’t, but rather to look at the similarities of the two conflicts and highlight the solidarity created across borders through the sport of football.

The Irish Diaspora, from the 1700s to present day, numbers in the tens of millions. Although many moved to embrace new, seemingly more prosperous lands, millions also fled due to land displacement or subjugation under the British Empire, or famine caused by British policies.

The Palestinian Diaspora, starting with the event of the Nakba (“The Catastrophe” in Arabic) has faced a similar struggle since the creation of the Israeli State in 1948. At that time, more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were displaced from their homeland, a number that has now ballooned to more than 12 million.

Britain and Israel have primarily caused these displacements, by policies implemented throughout their colonial projects, routinely passing laws that sought to force second-class citizenship on to Irish Catholics and Palestinians Arabs, forced displacements and presided over the military occupation of the lands of both peoples.

They have also justified their murder as “fighting terrorism” and subjected both groups to oppressive and inhumane conditions. The military-industrial complex in both the United States and Britain have also long used the lands of both peoples as a “live training ground”.

During the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles, British troops were commonly known to call Northern Ireland the British Army’s “best training ground”. Similarly, the Israeli Army has used the Palestinian people and its lands as a “testing ground” for arms supplied by US, Britain, and other suppliers.

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Celtic fans protest Donald Trump's decision to shift the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem earlier this year.

Parallels

As someone who has done human rights work in both Northern Ireland and Palestine, it is clear to me the parallels between the two struggles go much deeper than just the towering walls that separate the two communities in both regions of the world. 

Britain, throughout its history of colonialism and oppression of the Irish people, introduced many acts targeting Irish people, such as the 1922 Special Powers Act, the Prevention of Violence Act in 1939, and the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act in 1973. These allowed British forces to detain and arrest individuals without a warrant and keep them in custody under internment for an undisclosed amount of time without a trial, if that individual was suspected to have “links to terrorism”.

Britain defended these laws, claiming they were needed to deal with the threat of armed republican groups such as the Irish Republican Army. This use of internment without trial was eventually phased out after 1975, but between 1971 to 1975, 2000 people were held in British jails without trial — 90% of them being Irish republicans.  

Israel is also notorious for using administrative detention to hold Palestinians in custody indefinitely, without ever taking them to trial. As of April, 424 Palestinians — including two women and three minors — were held in administrative detention in Israel. Israel holds 315 Palestinian minors in Israeli prisons, and more than 25 children have been in administrative detention since October 2015. This is a clear violation of international human rights law with the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) signed in 1991.

Standing up for humanity

Due to these and other similarities, an overwhelming majority of Celtic FC fans have unequivocally endorsed the team’s support of Palestine on grounds it is “standing up for humanity”.

For a lot of Celtic FC fans, their show of solidarity with Palestine is a way of showing solidarity with the dispossessed and oppressed, something with which they are familiar.

However, their solidarity goes much further than just their frequent waving of Palestinian flags; they have consistently used their platform to speak out against the abuses and killings of Palestinians by Israelis and have raised more than £130,000 for Palestinian charities.

Celtic FC fans, many who identify as anti-racist and anti-fascist, are no strangers to showing support to oppressed people who fight for their land and for fundamental human rights. They also showed support with the South African struggle against apartheid, solidarity with the Basque people for their independence from Spain, and have been known for raising money for Syrian refugees and welcoming them into their community.

Celtic FC fans know that their displays of solidarity are a way of showing the Palestinian people they have not been forgotten, and that there are those not afraid to stand up and show the world that they are with them.

International solidarity, now more than ever, is greatly needed in this world, as a way for all the dispossessed and oppressed people to finally come together and tear down this terrible system. It is possible Celtic FC fans have shown the rest of us the way forward.

[Reprinted from TeleSUR English.]