TOP STORIES Palestinian flags are not illegal in Israel. They...

Palestinian flags are not illegal in Israel. They are still being taken down.


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JERUSALEM. Amidst a sea of ​​Israeli flags at the entrance to the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, Abdullah al-Haj approached a group of far-right Jewish demonstrators, some of whom were shouting racist chants, and raised a Palestinian flag over his head. .

He knew he only had a few seconds.

To applause from supporters and taunts from Jewish demonstrators who had erupted around him, Mr. al-Haj, 61, was quickly seized by three paramilitary police officers who snatched the flag from his hands and carried him away.

“After I raised the flag, I didn’t care what would happen to me if I was killed, if my bones were broken or if I was arrested,” Mr. al-Hajj said at his home in Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. , talking about how he confronted a far-right rally at the end of May. “It was important for me to show that this land belongs to the Palestinians.”

The Palestinian flag is not banned in Israel, but its public display is under increasing attack from Israeli authorities seeking to suppress manifestations of Palestinian nationalism. This is especially the case in East Jerusalem, the half of the city populated mostly by Palestinians.

When President Biden visited last week, American flags were flown all over Jerusalem for several days, including along the outskirts of East Jerusalem. But most of the Palestinian flags raised there are removed by the authorities within a few hours.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, tentatively approved a bill last month to ban the flag from university campuses, though its fate seems unclear since the government’s collapse. And in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, emboldened Jewish settlers remove Palestinian flags from Palestinian cities, sometimes with protection Israeli Army.

East Jerusalem was captured by Israel in 1967 and later annexed as part of its capital, but is still considered occupied territory by most of the world. The Palestinian flag is virtually absent from the streets, while the blue and white Israeli flag flies from street lamps and in the homes of Jewish settlers. The inhabitants of Palestine, unable to hoist their flag at home, sometimes resort to painting frescoes in its black, white, green and red colors.

“Today, there is a movement inside and outside the Knesset to focus on the flag as an expression of terrorism or support for terrorism,” said Fadi Khoury, a civil rights lawyer with the Palestinian rights group Adalah. “This is part of an ongoing attempt to criminalize certain aspects of the collective Palestinian identity.”

The Palestinian flag has never been explicitly banned, but under Israeli law it is illegal to fly the flag of any group that the state considers a terrorist organization. Until the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, which included the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, and by extension, the Palestinian flag was banned.

This changed in 1993 when Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and the flag began to appear in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But when the second Palestinian intifada broke out in 2000, Israel’s crackdown on the uprising included the suppression of manifestations of Palestinian identity, including the flag.

Since then, in the absence of a law banning the flag, Israeli police have used other regulations, including riot laws, to arrest and charge Palestinians who raise the banner, lawyers and human rights groups have said.

“The way it was justified, especially the arrests, was that flag-waving was associated with disorderly conduct, which is a separate offence,” Mr Khoury said. “There is no explicit clause in any legal document criminalizing flag-waving, but individual police officers consider it a crime on the grounds that it is disorderly conduct.”

Israeli police, who were questioned about the confiscation of Mr. al-Haj’s flag in May, as well as other clashes that day between officers and Palestinian protesters, said in a statement: “The act of hoisting is not an offense.” But when an action threatens people’s lives, he added, “the on-site commander has the right to take all necessary action to stop the threat and maintain public order.”

However, Israel’s own courts routinely dismiss cases directly related to flag-waving.

In September, a judge in Jerusalem ruled that a protester arrested for waving a Palestinian flag should be released from custody, adding that police did not explain how it violated public order and safety.

Earlier this year, a member of the right-wing Likud party proposed a bill to ban the flag of an enemy state or the Palestinian Authority from flying in public institutions, namely colleges and universities. Those found guilty will be sentenced to a year in prison and fined at least NIS 10,000, which is about $3,000.

The bill gained support in the Knesset after students at Ben-Gurion University were allowed to celebrate Nakba Day, commemorating the flight and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians when Israel was established in 1948, with the display of the Palestinian flag drawing the ire of some Israelis.

The bill received preliminary approval, but after the collapse of the Israeli parliament last month, it had to be re-submitted to the new government.

After Mr. al-Hajj’s demonstration of Palestinian nationalism was interrupted in May, four policemen carried him to a nearby police watchtower and later released him.

A few blocks away, where dozens of Palestinians had gathered to protest a right-wing Jewish rally, police attacked a group of people waving Palestinian flags and fired smoke bombs at them. video from the stage.

“Basically, you will not see the Palestinian flag raised in Jerusalem on buildings, cars or anything public,” said Munir Nusseib, a human rights lawyer. “When a Palestinian tries to raise the Palestinian flag, he is met with violence.”

Flag battles are also fought in Palestinian areas such as the West Bank.

In the Palestinian city of Huwarra, such fighting has become an almost daily occurrence, Mayor Nasir Huwari said. Israeli settler passing through town He was recently filmed climbing an electric pole and pulling down a small Palestinian flag.

Settlers now regularly come to take down the flags in Huwarra, often under the protection of the Israeli military, Mr. Huwari said. There has also been an increase in violence from settlers who attack local shops, he said.

“Palestinians live day and night under the Israeli flag,” he said. “So why do they want to remove my flag, and this is the territory under the control of the Palestinian Authority? They are trying to provoke.”

In response to a question about the removal of flags by settlers, an Israeli military spokesperson stated that the Israeli police are responsible for enforcing the law when crimes or offenses are committed by Israeli citizens.

The Israeli police said in a statement that if the suspects are involved in the offense, “their further investigation will be carried out by the police accordingly.” He did not say whether he had investigated any recent cases of settlers tearing down Palestinian flags.

Two weeks before the rally, the world witnessed shocking scenes at the funeral of Palestinian American journalist Shirin Abu Akle, who was killed while covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian men, most likely by an Israeli bullet.

Israeli police attacked mourners carrying her coffin and waving the Palestinian flag. One video showed the police officer grabs the flags and throws them on the ground.

Ms. Abu Akle’s brother, Tony, said police told him before the funeral that they did not want the flag to be raised or mourners to chant nationalist slogans.

“No matter how hard they tried to take down the flag, it stayed up,” Mr. Abu Akle said of the brutal events at his sister’s funeral. “I don’t think people came to the funeral just to raise the flag, but Shirin is Palestinian first and foremost.”

Even hours after the murder of Ms. Abu Akle, the police objected to the hoisting of the flag in her honour. As mourners poured into the family’s home in northern Jerusalem, officers demanded the removal of a small Palestinian flag flying over the two-story building, Mr. Abu Akle said. The family refused.

A few weeks later, the flag was still fluttering in the wind.

Myra Novek as well as Yazbek error provided a report from Jerusalem and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.

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