Palestinian Flags Aren’t Illegal in Israel. They Still Get Torn Down.

JERUSALEM – Amid a sea of ​​Israeli flags at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City’s Muslim Quarter, Abdullah al-Hajj walked toward a group of Jewish far-right marchers, some of whom shouted prayers racist and held the Palestinian flag aloft. .

He knew he only had a few seconds.

With cheers from supporters and jeers from Jewish marchers erupting around him, 61-year-old al-Hajj was quickly grabbed by three paramilitary policemen from his hand and carried him away.

al-Hajj spoke at his home in Jericho, the Israeli-occupied West Bank. , recounts how he faced far-right protests in late May. “For me, it’s important to show that this land belongs to the Palestinians.”

The Palestinian flag is not banned in Israel but its display in public has come under increasing attack by Israeli authorities seeking to suppress expressions of Palestinian nationalism. That is especially the case in East Jerusalem, half the city has a predominantly Palestinian population.

When President Biden visited last week, American flags were flown across Jerusalem for days, including along the edges of East Jerusalem. But most Palestinian flags raised were taken down by the authorities within hours.

In Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, a bill banning the flying of flags at universities received preliminary approval last month, though its fate seemed unclear after the government’s fall. And in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, encouraged Jewish settlers are removing Palestinian flags displayed inside Palestinian towns, sometimes with protection of the Israelis Army.

East Jerusalem was captured by Israel in 1967 and later annexed as part of its capital, but most of the world still considers it occupied territory. The Palestinian flag is practically absent from the streets, while the blue and white Israeli flags are flown from streetlights and homes of Jewish settlers. Palestinian residents, unable to raise the flag in their homes, sometimes resort to painting murals in black, white, green and red.

“What is happening today is that there is a movement within the Knesset and beyond to focus on the flag as an expression,” said Fady Khoury, a civil rights lawyer at Adalah, a Palestinian legal rights group. of terrorism or in favor of terrorism. “This is part of an ongoing effort to criminalize certain aspects of the common Palestinian identity.”

The Palestinian flag has never been explicitly banned, but under Israeli law it is illegal to raise the flag of any group the state considers a terrorist organization. Before the Oslo Accords were signed in the 1990s including the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, and expanding the Palestinian flag was banned.

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

But when the second Palestinian demonstration broke out in 2000, Israel’s suppression of the uprising included a crackdown on expressions of Palestinian identity, among them the flag.

Since then, in the absence of a flag ban, the Israeli police have used other decrees, including public disorder laws, to arrest and charge Palestinians with banners. lawyers and human rights groups said.

Mr Khoury said: “The way it’s justified, especially arrests, is to combine flag-waving with disorderly conduct – it’s a separate offence. “There is no explicit provision in any legislation that criminalizes flag-waving – but it is considered an offense by police officers on the grounds that it is disorderly conduct. .”

Israeli police, asked about the seizure of al-Hajj’s flag in May as well as other confrontations that took place that day between Palestinian officers and protesters, said in a statement: “The act of hoisting does not constitute an offence.” But when the action endangers human life, it added, “the commander in charge of the scene has the authority to take all necessary actions to contain the threat and maintain public order.”

Even so, Israel’s own courts have regularly brought cases directly related to flag raising.

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 that it had disrupted order and like public safety.

Earlier this year, a member of the right-wing Likud party proposed a bill banning the waving of the flag of a hostile state or the Palestinian Authority at state-funded institutions, namely colleges and universities. learn. Offenders will be sentenced to one year in prison and fined not less than 10,000 shekels, about $3,000.

The bill gained support in the Knesset after students at Ben Gurion University were allowed to mark Nakba Day, the anniversary of the flight and deportation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians when Israel was founded in 1948, with a Palestinian flag protest, angering some Israelis.

The bill has received preliminary approval but after the collapse of the Israeli Parliament last month, it will need to be reintroduced by the new government.

After al-Hajj’s demonstration of Palestinian nationalism was cut short in May, he was carried by four officers to a nearby police watchtower and later released.

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

“You basically don’t see the Palestinian flag being raised in Jerusalem on buildings, on cars or on anything public,” said Munir Nuseibah, a human rights lawyer. “When a Palestinian tried to pull a Palestinian flag, he was met with violence.”

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

In the Palestinian town of Huwarra, fighting has become a daily routine, said mayor Nasir Huwari. An Israeli settler driving by town was recently videotaped climbing a power pole and tearing up a small Palestinian flag.

Mr. Huwari said settlers now regularly come to remove the flag in Huwarra, often under the protection of the Israeli military. He said there has also been an increase in violence from settlers, who have attacked local shops.

“Palestinians are living day and night under the flag of Israel,” he said. “So why do they want to remove my flag and this is an area of ​​the Palestinian Authority? They are trying to provoke.”

In response to a question regarding the settlers’ removal of the flag, an Israeli military spokeswoman said Israeli police have a responsibility to enforce the law when Israeli citizens commit crimes.

Israeli police said in a statement that if the suspects were involved in an offense “therefore, their further investigation will be conducted by the police”. It did not say whether it had investigated any recent incidents of settlers tearing the Palestinian flag.

Two weeks before the protests, the world witnessed shocking scenes at the funeral of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering violence between the Israeli military and those Palestinian man, most likely by an Israeli bullet.

Israeli police attacked mourners carrying her coffin and waving Palestinian flags. One video is displayed A police officer snatched the small flags and threw them to the ground.

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

Abu Akleh talks about the violent events at his sister’s funeral. “I don’t think people go to funerals just to wave a flag, but Shireen is first and foremost a Palestinian.”

Even within hours of Ms. Abu Akleh’s murder, the police raised the flag in her honor. As mourners flocked to the family home north of Jerusalem, officers asked for a small Palestinian flag to fly atop the two-story building, Abu Akleh said. Family refused.

Weeks later, the flag was still blowing in the wind.

Myra Noveck and Hiba Yazbek reporting donations from Jerusalem, and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.

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