Palestinian flags removed from lampposts after concerns raised with Met Police

The Met Police said no offences had been committed. Credit: ITV

Palestinian flags have been removed from lampposts in Tower Hamlets after concerns were raised with police.

ITV London noted 39 flags which were up along the A11 between Whitechapel and Bow on Monday were gone this morning. Some were still up in Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green.

The Metropolitan Police said that the expression of support for the Palestinian people, including flying the Palestinian flag, "does not, alone, constitute a criminal offence".

However, Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said that there are "some situations where the presence of a flag or banner or the use of specific words or phrases could be seen as intimidation.

"In some circumstances, it could also be seen as intending to cause harassment, alarm or distress."

Concerns were passed by the Met to TfL and Tower Hamlets Council. Credit: ITV

He said that while people have the right to protest, "celebration of terrorism or death", inciting violence, or flying the flag of Hamas or other proscribed terror groups will not be tolerated.

ITV London understands that after concerns over the Palestinian flags were raised with the Met Police, the force referred the matter to Tower Hamlets Council.

The council then consulted on the matter with Transport for London (TfL), which is responsible for many of the roads where flags were erected.

Tower Hamlets Labour group chair, Cllr Asma Islam told ITV London the flags were a "show of solidarity" but understood why some residents could find them offensive

Opinion is divided among councillors in the east London borough - some viewing it as an intimidating display and misuse of public property, and others as a harmless expression of solidarity.

Tory councillor for the Island Gardens ward, Peter Golds, told ITV London: "I don’t think anybody can object to anybody displaying something in a window.

"If it’s in their own home, or the back of their car, that’s freedom of speech and that is their right, but this is a public highway and this is public street furniture, funded by everybody.

“I think all communities are concerned because it’s intimidating isn’t it? If it is one side of an argument, and it is not the national flag, it is the flag of another organisaton, another body, on public street furniture.

"They were initially intimidating, they shouldn’t have been there, it’s pubic street furniture. I’m very pleased the authorities have acted, I’m very pleased that the police, for once, have done something."

However, Tower Hamlets Labour group chair, Cllr Asma Islam, argued the flags were an understandable expression of the frustration and horror many people are feeling about Israel's bombardment of Gaza.

“It’s mostly young people who want to show solidarity in a peaceful way, they want to be protest as well and it’s making a statement about how they feel," she said.

“From what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard I haven’t seen any damage to public property and I haven’t seen any violence.

"It’s about putting out that statement about how they're feeling, putting that solidarity out there and what they want their politicians and the world to see, so they realise where their hearts and souls are right now.”

Cllr Islam accepted that there may be some residents who found the flags offensive, but that it's important for community leaders to understand "where everyone's coming from".

The council said members of its Tension Monitoring Group were assessing the situation. Credit: ITV

When asked about the Tube driver suspended for chanting "free, free Palestine" as protesters were travelling to a demonstration, Cllr Islam said: “There would have been people on that train that would not have been happy or would have felt uncomfortable in that situation.

"I guess you don’t expect to go into a train station and have your driver speak on the mic and make political statements.

“I think most TfL workers are under a contract that means they are politically restricted, and it’s up to TfL to make a judgement. Although I do understand his sentiments, it might not have been appropriate at the time.”

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: “As one of the most diverse areas in the country, we are monitoring the situation closely with our Tension Monitoring Group which includes the police.“A number of Palestinian flags have been put up by the public in recent weeks. While we appreciate people want to express their support for Palestine, we have a routine responsibility to monitor and maintain council infrastructure.

“Following consultation with Transport for London flags have been removed. The situation is under daily review.”

A TfL spokesperson said: “We are investigating reports of unauthorised flags on the road network in Tower Hamlets and are removing these swiftly where they are found to be attached to TfL infrastructure, as it is important that infrastructure on our road network remains safe and clear of unauthorised objects.”

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