Late Sunday, Israel’s security minister ordered police to ban the Palestinian flag, a symbolically fraught step after what an Israeli human rights group said was the deadliest year of the conflict in decades.
“Today I ordered the Israeli police to enforce the ban on flying a PLO flag showing identification with a terrorist organization from the public sphere and to stop any incitement against the State of Israel,” announced Itamar Ben-Gvir on Twitter.
It was the new government’s latest retaliation to a Palestinian request to the UN’s highest judicial body to comment on Israel’s 55-year military occupation of the West Bank.
Ben-Gvir, a far-right arsonist known for his anti-Arab rhetoric, received widespread international condemnation when he visited Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site last week.
Shtayyeh told Haaretz that the Israeli sanctions were designed to collapse the Palestinian Authority and that they would have dire consequences.
“We have a right to complain and tell the world we are in pain,” he said in comments published Monday. “Israel wants to prevent even the most non-violent way of fighting the occupation.”
Ahmad Aldeek, assistant to the Palestinian foreign minister, said: “The Israeli government is waging open war against the symbols and components of the state of Palestine.”
“This increases our insistence on prosecuting and adjudicating the Israeli government in all international fora,” Aldeek said Monday.
Under Israeli law, flying the Palestinian flag is not a crime. An attorney general ruled in 2014 that an ordinance decades earlier gave police the power to seize a flag if it leads to public order disturbance or violation of the peace, or in support of terrorism. Ben-Gvir’s order, one group said, falsely implies that any public display of the Palestinian flag is itself such a disruption.
“This gives the police unlimited discretion to prohibit the waving of the Palestinian flag under any circumstances,” said a statement from Adalah, an Arab minority rights group.
Ben-Gvir’s latest order is not the first battle over the flying of the Palestinian flag.
The red, green and white Palestinian flag carries great symbolism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last May, Israeli riot police beat pallbearers at the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, nearly causing them to drop the coffin. Police tore Palestinian flags from people’s hands and fired stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
Israel once viewed the Palestinian flag as belonging to a militant group related to the Palestinian Hamas or the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah. But after Israel and the Palestinians signed a series of interim peace agreements known as the Oslo Accords, the flag was recognized as that of the Palestinian Authority, which was established to administer Gaza and parts of the occupied West Bank. Israel opposes all official business conducted by the PA in East Jerusalem, and police have in the past broken down events they claimed were related to the PA.
Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that the measures against the Palestinians were aimed at what he called “an extreme anti-Israel move at the UN.”
The Palestinian citizens of Israel make up 20% of the population and they have had a turbulent relationship with the state since its establishment in 1948. That was the year hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to flee during the events surrounding Israel’s founding . the state of Israel.
Those who remained became civilians, but were long viewed with suspicion by some Israelis because of their ties to the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, territories Israel captured during the 1967 Middle East war.
The Palestinians are seeking all three areas for a future independent state. Netanyahu’s new government is dominated by hardliners opposed to a Palestinian state.