Palestinian flags for Gaza to be taken down in London borough Tower Hamlets

Palestinian flags for Gaza to be taken down in London borough Tower Hamlets
The mayor of Tower Hamlets announced this week that Palestinian flags in the London borough will be taken down after political pressure.
3 min read
15 March, 2024
Artwork featuring the words 'Existence is Resistance' and a Palestinian flag painted on a shop blind can be seen in Tower Hamlets [Getty]

A parade of Palestinian flags displayed in an East London borough will be taken down amid political pressure over the Gaza solidarity gesture, the local council announced this week.

Lutfur Rahman, the mayor of Tower Hamlets, a borough with the UK's biggest Muslim population, said on Wednesday that Palestinian flags will be removed from all council-owned buildings following complaints from a pro-Israel lawyers group.

While Rahman rejected claims the flags are a "symbol of division", he still ordered their removal after written advice from the council's chief executive.

It follows a legal letter sent from the UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) group in January, demanding that all Palestinian flags, posters and stickers containing allegedly "inflammatory" messages be removed due to claims they were intimidating Jewish residents.

"Although these flags are an understandable expression of solidarity, I now feel they are being used to unfairly attack the people of the borough and further the Islamophobic narrative," Rahman said in a statement on X.

He said Tower Hamlets, with the highest Muslim population in the UK, became a target amid a wave of Islamophobia in the country since Hamas's 7 October attacks and ongoing brutal assault on Gaza.

The flags were erected after the war on Gaza, which has killed over 31,000 and injured over 73,000, began, in a show of solidarity with the people of Palestine.

Tower Hamlets Council has been under scrutiny for displaying the Palestinian lags, attracting criticism from right-wing media and pro-Israel groups.

Some residents were reportedly "so distressed" they were looking to move out of the borough, according to a public complaint by the UKLFI lobby group.

Last month, Puru Miah, a former Tower Hamlets Labour councillor, launched a petition urging Tower Hamlets council to recognise Palestine and protect free speech in Tower Hamlets, which gathered 6,000 signatures.

"Obviously we are disappointed that the flags were taken down," Miah told The New Arab about the council's U-turn.

Miah blamed "dog whistle politics" for the public attacks on the Gaza solidarity display.

Secretary of State Michael Gove allegedly put pressure on the council through inspectors, such as the former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir John Jenkins, over the flags.

UKLFI, the same firm who sent the notice to Tower Hamlets, also criticised Redbridge council for failing to remove Palestinian flags, claiming it had "breached the law".

Redbridge council said it would remove the flags shortly after.

This comes amid reports of famine in Gaza and growing pressure on Israel to end its devastating siege on the enclave.

Live Story

"Ordinary folks in the East End will not remain silent over what the ICJ has called a plausible genocide in Palestine," Miah added, regarding an initial ruling by the International Court of Justice over Israel's conduct in the Gaza war.

On Thursday, Gove also named three Muslim organisations as being under review for alleged "extremism", a move slammed by London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Islamophobic hate crimes in the UK have more than tripled following the outbreak of the war in Gaza on 7 October.

Hate monitor organisation Tell MAMA recorded 2,010 anti-Muslim cases from October to February, the biggest number documented in the group's history.

The latest figures were up from 600 incidents over the same period in 2022-2023. There have also been reports of an increase in anti-semitic attacks in the UK.

Pro-Palestine campaigners have warned the public that right-wing politicians, commentators and media are using the Gaza issue as a way of sowing divisions and as part of a culture war ahead of a general election later this year.