Israel's Ben-Gvir tells police to remove Palestinian flags from public spaces

The hardline National Security Minister said it 'cannot be that lawbreakers wave terrorist flags'

A protester waves a Palestinian flag in Tel Aviv at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government. AP
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Israel's new far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said on Sunday that he had instructed police to remove Palestinian flags from public spaces.

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

The directive from Mr Ben-Gvir, who leads an ultra-nationalist party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government and as minister oversees the police, seems to take a hard line in requiring their removal.

It 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.

Mr Ben-Gvir said that waving the Palestinian flag was 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,” he said.

Arabs in Israel account for around a fifth of the population and most are descendants of Palestinians who remained within the newly founded state after its 1948 creation.

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

In recent days, Israel has withheld millions of dollars of Palestinian tax revenue, stripped Palestinian officials of VIP privileges and broken up a meeting of Palestinian parents discussing their children’s education.

Palestinian Prime MInister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the Israeli measures, made in response to a Palestinian appeal for UN help, are “aimed at toppling the authority and pushing it to the brink financially and institutionally”.

“We consider these measures a new war against the Palestinian people, their capabilities and funds, and a war against the national authority, its survival and its achievements,” Mr Shtayyeh said during his weekly cabinet meeting.

The Israeli measures were a response to the UN General Assembly’s decision to ask the UN’s highest judicial body to give its opinion on the legality of Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel vehemently opposed the Palestinian-backed move. Decisions by the International Court of Justice are not binding, but can carry great influence.

Mr Shtayyeh rejected Israeli claims that such moves are a counter to peace.

“We have the right to complain and tell the world we are in pain,” he said in comments published in Haaretz on Monday. “Israel wants to prevent even the most non-violent way of fighting the occupation.”

Updated: January 09, 2023, 6:06 PM