Celtic are just two games away from the promised land of the Champions League group stages with Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva standing in their way.
But while much of the focus will be on the field. there is an underlying political element that could ultimately overshadow the qualifier with elements of the Celtic support set to unfurl flags in support of Palestine.
The Scottish champions have been punished eight times in five years by UEFA for the misconduct of their supporters – involving flares, smoke bombs, banners and songs – and they have been warned that they could face further sanctions from the governing body if fans stage a protest against the Israeli state on Wednesday night.
Sanctions could include a significant increase in fines and even the closure of parts of the stadium and a ban on away fans.
A UEFA spokesperson, speaking last week, said: “It would probably lead to a disciplinary case against the club. We would take into account previous incidents when deciding on sanctions. It starts with a warning to the club, then a fine — then it could lead to a partial stadium closure and so on.”
However, it looks like an element of the Celtic support will ignore pleas from the club and UEFA to desist from protesting inside the stadium on Wednesday night. A group calling themselves ‘Celtic fans for Palestine’ plan on handing out Palestinian flags before the Champions League qualifier, a statement published via their facebook page, read: “As you all know Celtic have been drawn with an Israeli football team who under UEFA’s own rules should not be allowed to participate in this competition due to the system of apartheid laws and practices including religious and ethnic based colonisation, military occupation and segregation of what remains of Palestinian land and over 90 laws which discriminate against indigenous Palestinians who make up 20% of the population of current day Israel.
“Come gather at the entrance of The Celtic Way where we will be distributing free Palestine flags to those who will fly them. We will not be pushing them on those who do not want to participate, we respect your choice as fans to simply watch the game and support our team. We hope in return those fans will respect in turn that for many, when someone is representing Israeli state institutions it is sadly never merely a game, football, UEFA and Celtic FC are being used to whitewash Israel’s true nature and give this rogue state an air of normality and acceptance it should not and cannot enjoy until it’s impunity ends and it is answerable to international law and faces sanctions for the countless UN resolutions it had breached.
“In support of the Palestinians we Celtic fans invoke our democratic rights to display our opposition to Israeli Apartheid, settler – colonialism and countless massacres of the Palestinian people, such as the one carried out in besieged Gaza in the summer of 2014 by showing the Palestinians and the world where we stand. We stand for justice, for freedom and end to all forms of racism and oppression. Our combined histories of people drawn from Ireland, rural Scotland and the many other places were New Scots hailed from into a city in which we Glaswegians fought long and hard for workers rights and social justice are the spring from which our internationalist solidarity with the Palestinians flows like it did with the Spanish people fighting fascism in the 1930’s or black South Africans oppressed under white supremacy and Latin Americans under US-backed dictatorships in the 1980’s.
“Throughout these years the Palestinians struggled and died while the world looked elsewhere. No more is this the case and around the world the inspiring and unstoppable Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has grown and grown and global civil society, people like us, are finally making Israel accountable. We are part of that movement and until there is end to the brutal occupation and medieval siege of the West Bank and Gaza, until the Palestinian citizens of current day Israel have the chains of apartheid lifted from them and until all Palestinian refugees are allowed to return to their homeland we will always be visually and openly in support of the Palestinians and opposed to their Israeli colonisers and oppresses. We are with you Palestine ..You Will Never Walk Alone.”
A club open to all
Despite the comments from ‘Celtic fans for Palestine’, Hapoel Be’er Sheva is a club that is open to all – a similar tag used by Celtic – with the Israeli side home to Christian, Muslim and Jewish players alike. Their supporters are open to players of any religion playing for them and are respectful of other beliefs – unlike clubs like Beitar Jerusalem for example, who have never signed an Israeli-Arab due to pressure from their radical right wing Ultras group – La Familia.
The togetherness at Be’er Sheva flies in the face of ‘outside commentators’ who see the whole of the Israeli state synonymous with ‘daily brutality, land occupation, militarism, settlements, and dispossession’.
Any Pro-Palestinian protest from Celtic could be perceived by some as anti-Israeli, with some peddling claims of anti-Semitism also. Such an incident, will receive a negligible response from within Celtic Park but over in Israel at the Turner Stadium – named after a former Brigader General of the Israel Air Force – it is a whole different story.
While Be’er Sheva fans do not have a violent history, such protests are sure to anger their fans and there could be altercations with the Celtic away support. Remember, Be’er Sheva is a city that has been targeted by rocket attacks from Palestinian militants over the years.
The recent report of a Celtic fan talking about ‘gassing’ Nir Bitton because of his nationality and beliefs is sure to add to the ‘atmosphere’ in Israel. Such comments have nothing to do with political belief , it is simply a disgusting comment from a fan of a club that claims to be a club open to all – like Be’er Sheva. When you take into account that Be’er Sheva’s south stand [and former stadium]is named after Arthur Vasermil then you have to question the mindset of such a scumbag.
For those who don’t know of Arthur Vasermil, he was a seven-year-old Jewish boy living in Poland who was sent to the Majdanek concentration & extermination camp and murdered by the Nazis in 1943. His mother later stated that her young son was ‘thrown into the pit like a toy that nobody wanted’.
Many who have left-wing views and criticise the treatment of Palestinians, live in Israel and yet still serve in the military, for example, because they understand it’s important for the country and has nothing to do with Palestinians.
Israel has enemies in Lebanon, Syria, Iran and the other countries in the Arab world that has nothing to do with Palestine. It’s not a black and white statement. To say Israel is an apartheid towards Israeli-Arab citizens is absurd. They serve in the Israeli parliament, an Israeli-Arab was just captain of the Israel U-21 team, 10-20% of the Premier League is made up of Arabs. While there are still lots of problems of how Arabs are treated in the state of Israel, apartheid is not the right word. In South Africa during apartheid, Blacks couldn’t vote, or own land in white people’s land.
This is certainly not the platform to discuss Arab-Israeli affairs, but once again we are discussing political issues involving Celtic fans which could have wide-reaching consequences for the club and those fans who don’t engage in political protest at games.
Time to take the protests outside the ground folks unless you want to stump up the cash to pay the fine that Celtic will almost certainly be hit with by UEFA.