Israel orders police to remove Palestine flags from public spaces

A protester waves a Palestinian flag in Tel Aviv at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government (AP)

Al-Jazeera  /  January 9, 2023

Far-right security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said waving the Palestinian flag is an act in support of ‘terrorism’.

Israel’s new far-right Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir has instructed police to remove Palestinian flags from public spaces, calling the Palestinian national symbol an act of “terrorism”.

Israeli law does not outlaw Palestinian flags but police and soldiers have the right to remove them in cases where they deem there is a threat to public order.

Sunday’s directive from Ben-Gvir, who heads the ultranationalist Jewish Power party in Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government and as national security minister oversees the police, appears to signal a hardline and uncompromising attitude towards Palestinian expressions of identity and free speech and pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

The display of the Palestinian flag in Israel has, in practice, long been clamped down on by Israeli authorities, with Palestinians regarding such moves as an attempt to suppress Palestinian identity.

Ben-Gvir’s orders came after a mass anti-government protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday, where some demonstrators waved the Palestinian flag.

Protesters labelled the recently sworn-in government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “fascist” and advocated for equality and coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis.

Writing on Twitter, Netanyahu on Sunday said the presence of the Palestinian flag at the Tel Aviv protest was “wild incitement”.

Ben-Gvir’s directive also follows the release last week of a long-serving Palestinian prisoner, convicted of kidnapping and killing an Israeli soldier in 1983, who waved a Palestinian flag while receiving a hero’s welcome in his village in northern Israel.

Ben-Gvir, in a statement, said waving the Palestinian flag is an act in support of “terrorism”.

“It cannot be that lawbreakers wave terrorist flags, incite and encourage terrorism, so I ordered the removal of flags supporting terrorism from the public space and to stop the incitement against Israel,” Ben-Gvir said.

Palestinian citizens of Israel account for about one-fifth of the population and most are descendants of Palestinians who remained within the state after its formation in 1948, an event known to Palestinians as the Nakba, or catastrophe.

The majority of the population of pre-1948 historic Palestine had been Palestinians.

They have long debated their place in Israel’s politics, balancing their Palestinian heritage with their Israeli citizenship, with the vast majority identifying as or with the Palestinians.

Many Palestinians, both in Israel and in the occupied territory, are fearful of the new government’s policies towards them, in light of the strong presence of far-right settler groups within it, with Ben-Gvir in particular previously convicted of inciting racism towards Arabs.

In some of its first moves over the past few days, the Israeli government rescinded the travel permit of the Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki on Sunday and decided to withhold $39m in revenues from the Palestinian Authority on Friday.

The decisions were part of an effort to penalize Palestinians for asking the International Court of Justice to give an opinion on the Israeli occupation, which is illegal under international law.



Israel’s Ben-Gvir orders police to bar Palestinian flags from public spaces

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  January 8, 2023

Previous policy dictated that due to freedom of expression laws, the flag could only be confiscated if it had ‘the potential to instigate a disturbance of the peace’.

Israel’s new national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has ordered the state’s police commissioner to enforce a directive to remove Palestinian flags from public spaces a day after one was waved at an Israeli-led anti-government protest in Tel Aviv. 

Ben-Gvir sent out the order to commissioner Kobi Shabtai on Sunday, flexing unprecedented powers granted to the ultra-nationalist politician as part of recent coalition negotiations to form Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. 

Channel 13 news, which reported the initial order, also reported that Israeli police were unsure of the unilateral decree, as Israel’s High Court of Justice has already deemed in many rulings that the right to expression must not be restricted unless there is near certainty of a grave and genuine threat to public safety.

The court on 7 November, rejected a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) against the police commissioner, Jerusalem district commander, and state attorney, demanding an end to the harassment of demonstrators carrying the Palestinian flag. The court said the petition had been rejected because the Attorney General had already issued an update informing officers not to interfere with the flying of the flag unless it “has the potential to instigate a disturbance of the peace”, as per policy. 

Still, far right pundits and policy makers expressed outrage following a display of the flag in Tel Aviv on Saturday, including Prime Minister Netanyahu who slammed “the opposition” and “mainstream media” for failing to condemn such “wild incitement”. 

“I demand that everyone stop this immediately,” the prime minister tweeted. 

In 2021, former Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev told commissioner Shabtai to only order the confiscation of Palestinian flags in exceptional security situations. 

Historically, much discretion over whether the Palestinian flag should be permitted to fly has been left up to the police commissioner, with policy generally dictating that the flag be barred from Jerusalem where it is seen as having a “high level of probability of a major violation of public order”, but allowed in Tel Aviv, which lacks many of the flashpoint characteristics of the holy city.

Ben-Gvir took exception however, to the flag’s presence in Haifa district’s village of ‘Ara over the weekend during a celebration of the release of Palestinian prisoner Karim Younis, who was freed on Thursday after 40 years in Israeli prison. 

Announcing the new flag directive, Ben-Gvir’s bureau also noted that the minister had instructed Shabtai to open an internal investigation to examine why his previous instruction to prevent celebrations of the prisoner’s release in ‘Ara were only partially carried out by officers, Haaretz reported