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Flying the Palestinian flag may no longer be legitimate, says UK Home Secretary

27th Oct 2023
Flying the Palestinian flag may no longer be legitimate, says UK Home Secretary

Nadine Osman

The UK Home Secretary’s warning that the public display of Palestinian flags in England and Wales may no longer be legitimate has been slammed as a breach of civil liberties, divisive, and “dehumanising Palestinians.”

In a letter addressed to chief constables on October 10, Suella Braverman indicated that waving the flag might be perceived as endorsing terrorism.

Braverman emphasised that, while there are valid reasons for expressing solidarity with Palestinians, there are actions that may violate the boundaries defined by the Terrorism Act and the Public Order Act.

She gave examples of protest behaviours that she felt could constitute public order offences, such as targeting Jewish areas, displaying symbols linked with pro-Palestinian or pro-Hamas views, and indulging in anti-Israeli chants.

Braverman urged law enforcement to apply the “full force of the law” against any demonstrations or displays showing support for Hamas and any actions that aim to intimidate the Jewish community in the UK amidst the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The Home Secretary also stressed the importance of ensuring public order throughout demonstrations.

Following a rally by pro-Palestinian protestors outside the Israeli Embassy in Kensington on October 9, who chanted “From the river to the sea,” Braverman stated that the slogan should be taken as a call for Israel’s annihilation.

“Of course, it is not just explicit pro-Hamas symbols and chants that are cause for concern. I would encourage police to consider whether chants such as ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ should be understood as an expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world and whether its use in certain contexts may amount to a racially aggravated Section 5 Public Order Offence,” she said.

Her comments were backed by opposition leader Keir Starmer, who said that, in some circumstances, waving the flag could be seen as “provoking or encouraging attacks” on Jewish communities.
Police position

The Metropolitan Police’s Deputy Commissioner, Dame Lynne Owens, has vowed to protect the Jewish community but has made it clear her officers will not be taking automatic action against protesters waving flags.

“An expression of support for the Palestinian people more broadly, including flying the Palestinian flag, does not, alone, constitute a criminal offence,” wrote Dame Lynne in an open letter to London’s Jewish communities.

“What we cannot do is interpret support for the Palestinian cause more broadly as automatically being support for Hamas or any other proscribed group, even when it follows so soon after an attack carried out by that group and when to many the link seems indisputable.

“Behaviour at protests goes beyond what is and isn’t seen as support for proscribed groups. I know that in the past, we have seen people use these opportunities to make statements that are quite clearly anti-Semitic and a hate crime.

“Abuse or intimidation that is religiously motivated will not be accepted, and officers will act when they see it. We will act swiftly where people break the law, and we will do everything in our power to protect you and to make you feel safe.”

This slogan is frequently used to describe the aspiration for a unified Palestinian state extending from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Dehumanising Palestinians

 

Ben Jamal, Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), said that Braverman’s letter was “deeply concerning”, “threatening to civil liberties”, and “likely to further normalise a dehumanising of Palestinians”.

Jamal said her instruction to the police to “consider whether the waving of a Palestinian flag is legitimate, as it may indicate support for terrorism, is deeply concerning, threatening to civil liberties, and likely to further normalise a dehumanising of Palestinians that is currently widespread in political discourse.

“A police force enacting this instruction denies the right of Palestinians to fly a flag, which is the symbol both of their nationhood and struggle for liberation from Israel’s system of oppression. It is also an assault on the basic right of British citizens to show solidarity for the Palestinian people’s legitimate desire to have their rights realised, including the fundamental right of self-determination.

Chris Doyle, Director of the Council of Arab-British Understanding (Caabu), told The National, “It is ridiculous and deeply divisive to even suggest the banning of raising the Palestinian flag.”
He added, “It is dangerous to conflate the atrocities committed by Hamas with legitimate Palestinian demands that are backed up by international law.

“It is highly irresponsible, risking stirring up community tensions all for political gain. There is absolutely nothing wrong with waving a Palestinian flag at all, and nobody should suggest that ever.”

On October 14, protesters took part in a PSC-organized march in London to call on the international community to hold Israel responsible for its decades-long imposition of an unlawful military occupation and apartheid system. The march’s objective was that regional violence end by addressing its root causes. Many of the thousands of protesters raised the Palestinian flag in solidarity with the besieged people of Gaza, for which no one was detained.

Photo: Thousands of protesters carrying Palestinian flags and placards descended on central London on October 14 to express their support for besiged Palestinians in Gaza.
(Credit: Burak Bir/Anadolu Agency)


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