Israel’s far-right National Security Minister ordered the Palestinian flag to be removed from public spaces, claiming it “encourages terrorism”. However, this is not an unprecedented move from Israel.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s new far-right National Security Minister who heads an ultranationalist party in Benjamin Netanyahu's new government, has instructed police to remove Palestinian flags from public spaces.
The order came after anti-government protesters displayed the four-coloured Palestinian flag in Tel Aviv during celebrations of the release of a long-serving Palestinian prisoner Karim Younis last week.
"It cannot be that lawbreakers wave terrorist flags, incite and encourage terrorism, so I ordered the removal of flags supporting terrorism from the public space and to stop the incitement against Israel," Ben-Gvir said in a statement late on Sunday night.
The official, who already caused controversy shortly after taking office by entering the Al Aqsa Mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem last week, ignored concerns that his flag ban order would violate civil liberties. Instead, he argued that "freedom of expression does not extend to identifying with a terrorist and those who want to harm IDF soldiers".
Ben-Gvir became the National Security Minister after his Otzma Yehudit party joined the coalition government of newly re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The coalition agreement contained a policy of removing Palestinian flags from state-funded institutions.
However, his Sunday order goes further, banning the flag in all public places.
READ MORE: Israel's Ben-Gvir orders removal of Palestinian flags from public spaces
An unprecedented move?
Even though Palestinian flags are not illegal under Israeli law, the Israeli police and soldiers regularly prohibit them in public spaces and seize them from Palestinians, particularly in occupied East Jerusalem.
The flying of Palestinian flags was criminalised by Israel when it first occupied Gaza in 1967—coupled with a military order prohibiting artists under occupation from exhibiting any fusion of red, black, white and green, the colours of the flag, in their works in 1981.
Israeli MPs have attempted multiple times in the last decades to adopt legislation restricting the flying of the flag, but none of these attempts was successful.
While the flag has always been a symbol of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Israel's assault on the flag went to another level during the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera reporter who was killed on May 11, 2022, while documenting an Israeli army operation in the Jenin refugee camp.
As she was carried to her final resting place by pallbearers, with her coffin wrapped in the Palestinian flag, dozens of Israeli police officers started punching and kicking the mourners, almost causing the mourners to drop the casket.
On June 1, 2022, a member of the then-opposition Likud party introduced a bill in the Israeli Knesset to ban the display of Palestinian flags at government-funded institutions, which received 63 votes for, mostly from right-wingers, and 16 against.
According to the bill, the display of "the flag of any enemy state" in public institutions would be illegal under the legislation. However, the emphasis was explicitly put on the Palestinian flag. "Flying such flags will be considered an illegal gathering that will be dealt with like a riot that can be dispersed," the bill read.
Early in December of 2022, another member of the Likud party, Shlomo Karhi, proposed an amendment to the Higher Education Law, banning the display of Palestinian flags inside universities and colleges after several students waved the flag in a demonstration on Nakba Day. The proposed amendment had provisions for a six-month suspension or expulsion from the academic institution in the case of repetition.
For a long time, the display of Palestinian flags has constantly been under some form of official sanction in Israel. And the introduction of these bills is part of a larger project of embedding Jewish supremacy in its legal code, with the banning of the flags further contributing to the repression of Palestinian national identity.