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Scottish football should blow the final whistle on Israeli teams

Palestinian players of Shabab Khan Younis football club celebrate after scoring a goal during the final football match of the Palestine Cup for the southern governorates with Shabab Rafah football club at Palestine stadium in Gaza city on 30 April, 2018 [Mahmoud Ajour/Apaimages]
Palestinian players celebrate after scoring a goal during the final football match of the Palestine Cup in Gaza city on 30 April 2018 [Mahmoud Ajour/Apaimages]

Since the start of the 21st century, Israeli occupation forces have killed at least 540 Palestinian athletes and other sportsmen and women. Many more have been wounded and crippled. The details are provided in a hard-hitting film due to be released later this month urging the expulsion of Israel from the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).

The short film seeks to raise awareness among Scottish football fans, not least because the Israeli national football team is scheduled to play Scotland at Hampden Park in Glasgow on 26 March. The 51,866-capacity national stadium has hosted Israel twice before and there was an outcry ahead of the game in November 2018 when the Scottish Football Association banned Palestinian flags from being flown inside Hampden.

This is not the first time that support for Palestine has caused controversy in Scottish football. In December 2017, Glasgow Celtic’s fans unfurled a banner declaring that “Jerusalem is Palestine F**k Trump” after the US President’s controversial speech in which he said that he was officially recognising the city as the capital of the Zionist state instead of Tel Aviv. He went on to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem as if to emphasise his decision.

READ: US athletes kneel in protest as Israeli national anthem plays

The “Jerusalem is Palestine…” banner was displayed during a Scottish Premier League clash with Hibernian Football Club from Edinburgh. The protest in Scotland followed furious demonstrations across the Middle East against Trump’s unilateral move.

The Celtic fans have a history of support for Palestine. Their club was fined in 2016 by UEFA after hundreds of “Hoops” fans raised Palestine flags during a match against Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva in a Champions League qualifier. Fans responded by matching the fine and handing over a cheque for £176,000 to Palestinian charities.

The film has been produced by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC). “The Scottish Football Association sadly does not consider what’s going on in Palestine and instead hides behind red tape and advice readily provided by the Foreign Office,” explained one of the campaign’s co-founders, Mick Napier. “We will be leafleting fans going into the ground to tell them about Israel’s war on Palestine’s football and make them aware. The film is part of that and we urge everyone to watch it and distribute it as widely as possible.”

He added that some within the current British government want to divert aid money to the Israeli military. “Hence, we hold out little expectation of justice from Westminster.”

Napier was referring to Home Secretary Priti Patel’s proposals when she was Secretary of State for International Development in 2017. Patel was forced to resign after being summoned by the then Prime Minister Theresa May because of her unauthorised secret meetings with officials in Israel during a “family holiday”, including Benjamin Netanyahu. It emerged that they were discussing plans for foreign aid from Britain to be paid to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

Last year, the UN released a damning report highlighting the IDF’s use of snipers against unarmed and non-threatening Palestinian protesters near the nominal border with the Gaza Strip. “The Israeli security forces killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor were they directly participating in hostilities,” the UN confirmed. The report was based on interviews, thousands of documents and video footage of Israeli soldiers using live ammunition against unarmed Palestinians. Their victims included children, medics and journalists.

Amazingly for a team often unable to get together for training due to travel restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation, the Palestine national side has been moved up the FIFA international rankings following its success in January’s Bangabandhu Gold Cup organised by the Bangladesh Football Federation. Palestine is now in 103rd place in the world, leapfrogging Estonia, Trinidad and Tobago, Mozambique and Kenya after winning the six-team tournament against teams including Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and the hosts Bangladesh.

Even in sport, the indomitable spirit of Palestine and its people refuses to be crushed by Israel’s brutal military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Sport is for all in occupied Palestine and not just for Israel. The Scottish Football Association would do well to watch the SPSC film and blow the final whistle on Israel’s participation in the beautiful game until it abides by international law and ends the occupation of Palestine.

READ: Israel flag set on fire by Greek basketball fans

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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