Hundreds wave flags at UK pro-Palestine march despite Home Secretary's warning

Suella Braverman had urged police forces to ban waving of Palestinian flags

Shaheen Hussein proudly carries flags during the pro-Palestine march in Bradford. Nicky Harley / The National
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Hundreds of people marched through the UK’s northern city of Bradford on Wednesday, singing and holding Palestinian flags.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Home Secretary Suella Braverman had urged police across the country to ban the waving of Palestinian flags over fears that it would incite hatred.

But on Wednesday, West Yorkshire Police took a step back and allowed pro-Palestine supporters to carry the flags.

Campaigner Muktar Ali, of Bradford Friends of Palestine, joined hundreds of others across the UK in organising protests after learning of the weekend’s tragic events in Israel and Gaza, which left more than 2,000 people dead and thousands more injured.

Mr Ali, 66, a former Bradford councillor, has been part of aid convoys to Gaza from the Yorkshire city for the past decade.

“A lot of people have attended. Our message is we want peace,” he told The National.

“We are against war and the massacre of children and destruction of hospitals.

"Gaza was under attack when I went there in 2009. The tragedy has just got worse since then and again we are here demanding action from the UK to help.

“Our purpose is to oppose the war and for peace. We do not want innocent lives lost and lots of people killed and displaced.

“We are a fair-minded community of all faiths and we all understand this is one of the greatest injustices of our time and we need to be able to express how we feel about it.

"I hope other faith leaders will join us. If people believe in equality then they should stand up and show it. I feel it is very unfair, what has happened.

"We are against any kind of killing. We are just expressing our opinion. We are not for war, we are opposing it.”

As the march wound through the city, police were forced to repeatedly halt it to remind some protesters to remove face masks.

Despite a heavy police presence, it remained peaceful as protesters played music, chanted and set off coloured flares.

“I came on my own,” Shaheen Hussein told The National.

“What is happening is inhumane and it needs to stop. We want to show Palestine support so they know they are not on their own.”

Her comments were echoed by cricket coach Nadeem Yousef, who had recently returned from Palestine.

“I came back from Palestine in June and I was supposed to be going back shortly to help train youngsters," Mr Yousef said. "It is time for Britain to understand and take action to help Palestine.”

Hundreds attended despite calls by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly just a day earlier for supporters to “pause” and not to protest.

Bilal Tariq, 17, said he would be waving his flag regardless of Ms Braverman’s concerns.

“People can fly Israeli flags, why can’t we fly Palestinian flags?” he asked The National.

“I came to show my love for Palestine and the people in Gaza after years and years of oppression from Israel. I came to raise awareness of the issues in Palestine.”

Bradford has long been a hot-bed for anti-Israeli sentiment, with former MP George Galloway declaring the northern city an “Israel-free zone” in 2014.

The controversial politician, who has been a passionate advocate for Palestinians, was investigated after he tried to ban Israeli citizens, students and goods from the city.

It meant hosting the march in the city raised fears that tension could spill over and led to the heavy police presence.

Mr Ali’s event encouraged supporters to bring flags, putting Bradford under a spotlight on Wednesday over how police would react to Ms Braverman’s directions.

A day before, in neighbouring city Sheffield, two protesters climbed the city hall to remove an Israeli flag.

Video showed them throwing the flag from the landmark, 60-metre tall Victorian structure and replacing it with the Palestinian flag, to cheers from those gathered below.

West Yorkshire Police told The National it had put measures in place to manage the march and only a few arrests were made due to the illegal discharge of fireworks.

"Police have thanked residents, shoppers and businesses in Bradford for their co-operation," it said.

"Appropriate policing arrangements were in place, with a view to providing reassurance and minimising disruption to the wider public, for the event which passed off largely without incident.

"A small number of arrests were made for offences such as the illegal discharge of fireworks.

"Police and partners worked together to minimise disruption to those in the city centre and to quickly return the area to normality at the close of the policing operation."

The force said it is continuing patrols in the area to reassure the community.

"West Yorkshire Police is engaging with our communities and key individuals across the county to understand the impact of these international events locally," it said.

"Our neighbourhood teams are also carrying out increased visible patrols to provide reassurance to our communities.

"Everyone has a right to live their life, and practise their religion, without the fear of targeted abuse for who they are.

"Anyone who has been subjected to a hate crime should not suffer in silence. We would urge anyone with concerns, or who has witnessed any offences, to please report it."

In London, the Metropolitan Police has been forced to increase the presence of officers after days of protests led to arrests and attacks on Jewish and Muslim institutions.

Earlier in the week arrests were made at a similar protest in London.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which is banned as a terrorist group by the UK government, launched attacks on Israel on Saturday when it fired thousands of rockets and also killed about 260 people attending a music festival.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in both Israel and Gaza.

Protests and vigils have since been held across the UK.

Updated: October 12, 2023, 11:20 AM