Waving Palestinian flag may be a criminal offence, UK's Braverman tells police

Waving Palestinian flag may be a criminal offence, UK's Braverman tells police
Since the outbreak of the Gaza-Israel war, the British government has expressed unequivocal support for Israel against Hamas.
4 min read
11 October, 2023
Braverman's letter was criticised by Palestinian rights campaigners [GETTY]

Waving the Palestinian flag and shouting chants calling for the freedom of Palestine could be deemed a criminal offence, the UK’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman said a day after thousands of people gathered at a pro-Palestine demonstration in London

In a letter sent to police chiefs in England and Wales on Tuesday, the controversial right-wing minister said that in "certain contexts" the use of the Palestinian flag could be provocative and incite racism towards British Jewish communities.

The letter comes after Hamas carried out an unprecedented attack on Israel on Saturday, leaving 1,200 Israelis dead.

Since the outbreak of war, the British government has expressed unequivocal support for what it called Israel’s "right to defend itself" against Hamas.

Over 1,000 Palestinians have been killed since Saturday in indiscriminate Israeli strikes that have flattened residential areas of the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for all government buildings to display the Israeli flag. 

In the letter, Braverman said: "I encourage police to consider whether chants such as 'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free' should be understood as an expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world, and whether its use in certain contexts may amount to a racially aggravated section 5 public order offence."

Braverman alluded that the waving of the Palestinian flag could be intended to glorify terrorism.  

"Context is crucial. Behaviours that are legitimate in some circumstances, for example, the waving of a Palestinian flag, may not be legitimate such as when intended to glorify acts of terrorism," her letter said.

"Nor is it acceptable to drive through Jewish neighbourhoods, or single out Jewish members of the public, to aggressively chant or wave pro-Palestinian symbols at. Where harassment is identified, I would encourage the police to take swift and appropriate enforcement action."

Live Story

UK-based Palestinian rights groups have condemned Braverman’s instructions to police, calling them "draconian" and an "assault on the basic rights of British citizens". 

The director of the British Palestinian Committee in a comment to The New Arab said that the UK government’s support for Israel means it is complicit in the collective punishment of Palestinians. 

"While the Israeli Defence Minister refers to Palestinians as 'human animals' and Netanyahu vows to turn the densely populated Gaza Strip into a 'deserted island', Ms Braverman is seeking to silence and criminalize Palestinians and British citizens of conscience wishing to stand up for Palestinian rights at a time when it is needed the most," Sara Husseini said.

Major Protest took in place in London earlier this week. [GETTY]
Over 5,000 people gathered on the streets of London to protest against Israeli apartheid and express support for Palestinians on Monday 9 October 2023 [GETTY]

Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said it was a threat to civil liberties and risks further normalising the dehumanising of Palestinians. 

"A police force enacting this instruction denies the right of Palestinians to fly a flag which is the symbol both of their nationhood and struggle for liberation from Israel’s system of oppression," Jamal said. 

Ismail Patel, Chair of Friends of Al-Aqsa said: "I was at the forefront of organising and demonstrating against the British government’s war against Afghanistan and Iraq. We were never obstructed from voicing our opinions like this."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a total besiege of Gaza shutting off water, electricity and fuel supplies for the two million inhabitants. The only power plant in Gaza ran out of power on Wednesday.  

Food and water supplies are reportedly running low, and the UN has said over 260,000 people have been displaced since Israel began its aerial bombardment. 

In the letter, Braverman asks police to monitor anti-Israel demonstrations for swastikas, Hamas logos or images, or clothing which could arouse "reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of Hamas". 

In 2021, the British government listed Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist group. Individuals who invite support for the group are subject to a 14-year jail term. 

Braverman’s move to suppress public support for Palestine follows the government’s ‘anti-boycott bill’ in June which limits public bodies' freedom to boycott funding for specific companies and groups. 

The legislature is designed to prohibit the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement which aims to pressure companies complicit in violations of Palestinians’ rights.  

The New Arab has approached the Home Office for comment.