Flying the Palestinian flag is not a criminal offense in Israel, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled on Saturday evening.
The ruling came after a demonstration on Friday in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where one protester was injured and four were arrested after police confiscated a Palestinian flag that they were flying.
Judge Naeel Mohana ordered the immediate release of one of the demonstrators, saying that “flying the Palestinian flag does not constitute an offense under the law.” His ruling came less than a month after Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, who is responsible for the police, issued a directive limiting confiscation of Palestinian flags from demonstrators to cases where there is an immediate risk of disturbance of the peace.
Friday’s demonstration, which was attended by dozens of Palestinians and Israelis, was in protest against efforts to evict Palestinian residents from property by a Jewish group claims that ownership of it. In a case that has attracted worldwide attention, the High Court of Justice is hearing an appeal seeking to block an eviction order.
Nahalat Shimon, the company that acquired the interests of Jewish families who lived in the neighborhood prior to Israel’s establishment in 1948, is demanding the families be evicted because the houses are on land purchased by Jews in the late 19th century. The houses were built by the Jordanian government and the United Nations in the 1950s to house Palestinian refugees from Israel’s War of Independence.
Near the end of Friday’s demonstration, which has been taking place every week, several Palestinian children and Israeli protesters waved small Palestinian flags. In response, the police pushed some of them and confiscated their flags. Among them was 25-year-old Eyal Kutner, who said, “They grabbed me, slammed my head onto the ground and choked me.”
Kutner was taken to Hadassah University Hospital at Mt. Scopus by the Magen David Adom emergency medical service, where he was admitted for several hours with a head wound.
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In the course of the demonstration, a police officer, Shahar Mahsomi, was filmed pulling Kutner’s 62-year-old mother, Arza, and pushing her to the ground. Arza Kutner is a member of the group Mothers Against Police Violence.
At one point in the protest, Eyal Kutner gave his flag to another demonstrator, Gil Hammerschlag, who was pounced on by the police and arrested. He later refused to sign an agreement with the police for his release in exchange for voluntarily staying away from Sheikh Jarrah for 30 days. As a result, he remained in detention through Saturday. On Saturday evening, Hammerschlag was brought before Judge Mohana.
At the hearing, the police requested an order barring Hammerschlag from Sheikh Jarrah for 60 days. His lawyer, Riham Nassra, showed the court video footage of the Palestinian flags at the demonstration. Concluding that the police investigative file in the case failed to show that the display disturbed public order, the judge ruled that the display of the flag had not been a violation of Israeli law under the circumstances. He ordered Hammerschlag released immediately.
While in the Tel Aviv district, the police have not been confiscating Palestinian flags, in Jerusalem, they have been using force in recent months to prevent the display of the flag.