Editorial |

Waving the Palestinian Flag Falls Under Freedom of Expression

Haaretz Editorial
Israeli police confront with mourners as they carry the casket of Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral in East Jerusalem on Friday.
Israeli police confront with mourners as they carry the casket of Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral in East Jerusalem on Friday.Credit: Maya Levin /AP
Haaretz Editorial

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai rushed to order an investigation into police officers’ conduct during the funeral of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh. But, in addition to looking into the officers’ use of excessive force, a thorough investigation is needed of the order given the officers by Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman to confiscate Palestinian flags and prevent them from being waved during the funeral as reported by Josh Breiner in Monday’s Haaretz.

During the funeral procession, the officers at the scene tried to confiscate Palestinian flags from the participants and even removed flags that were hanging nearby. East Jerusalem residents standing near the police contingent warned people who were waving Palestinian flags to lower them, because “police are arresting anyone who has a Palestinian flag.”

It’s no surprise that events spun out of control and slid into violence. If the police view waving a flag as a criminal act or a disturbance of the peace, and the person waving it as a suspect, the situation was bound to degenerate into rioting.

Therefore, the blame should not be cast solely on the police officers at the scene or focus exclusively on the amount of force they employed in the name of enforcing the law while ignoring the substance of the task they were assigned. The questions that must be asked are why it should be forbidden to wave Palestinian flags at all, much less at the funeral of a journalist who was, both in life and in death, a Palestinian national symbol.

In recent years, police have arrested demonstrators who waved Palestinian flags during protests in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, even though in practice they didn’t pose any threat. The attorney general’s orders state that flags should be removed only when there is a “high probability that waving the flag will lead to a serious disturbance of the peace.” Last year, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev urged the police commissioner to allow Palestinian flags to be confiscated during demonstrations only in exceptional cases.

Given all this, it’s necessary to investigate why the Jerusalem police chief issued a sweeping order to confiscate Palestinian flags and prevent them from being waved. This is especially the case because the order violated the attorney general’s instructions, which state that police officers should exercise judgment and consider each case on its own merits with regard to the question of whether a given flag creates a high probability of a serious disturbance of the peace.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara must make it clear to the police that waving a Palestinian flag is legal and protected by freedom of expression. She should issue orders to the police that clearly state that waving a flag is not in itself grounds for police intervention and is not enough on its own to indicate intent to endanger the public’s safety.

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