Israel's Interior Minister ordered the removal of Palestine flags from public places after an Arab convict freed from prison waved the Palestine flag during a march to welcome him back in the community.
Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir summoned Police Commissioner Kobe Shabtai after Arab Israelis celebrated the release of the convict and waved Palestinian flags in the rally. The ex-convict, identified as Karim Younus, had spent 40 years in Israeli prison for abducting and killing an Israeli soldier.
It is not illegal in Israel to display a Palestinian flag although a piece of legislation was moved in the Knesset some time ago seeking to make it illegal. Ben Gvir rebuked the police chief over the celebration in the Arab quarter of Ara and instructed him to tear down Palestinian flags from public spaces.
'Form of Terrorism'
"Minister Ben Gvir sent the police commissioner's office an order stating that all police officers of any rank are authorized in the course of police work to pull down flags of the Palestinian Authority," an interior ministry statement said.
Ben Gvir, the newly installed interior minister in the Benjamin Netanyahu cabinet, leads the ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit party. He said the use of the flag, which represents the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), is a form supporting for terrorism. The minister also ordered a ban on public celebrations in the Arab town of Ara.
"It can't be that lawbreakers wave terror flags, incite and support terror, and therefore I have ordered that terror-supporting flags be removed from the public space ... Identifying with a terrorist and with harming IDF soldiers is not protected under freedom of speech," Ben Gvir's statement said, according to the Times of Israel.
Right Wing Momentum
Although Palestinian flags are legal in Israel, the police reserve the discretionary right to remove them in order to secure public security. They can be removed if "there is a concern at the level of a high probability that waving the flag will lead to serious disruption of the public peace," the Haaretz newspaper had reported earlier.
The Israeli right wing gained more control over the government after the last election, after which Netanyahu cobbled together a coalition. Interior Minister Ben Gvir has been rooting for tougher handling of the Palestine protests, and is expected to roll out policies that aim to limit Palestinian extremism. One of Ben Gvir's campaign planks was capital punishment for terrorism offences.