Tower Hamlets Council has been criticised for failing to remove the Palestinian flags flying from lamp posts around the borough, but what are the views of local residents?
From Fish Island to Bow and Bethnal Green, the Palestinian flag can be seen flying from the lamp posts of Tower Hamlets in an expression of support for Gaza in the ongoing war with Israel.
Over the past few days, the borough has been at the centre of a national debate surrounding the legality of these flags on public property.
In a letter to the Metropolitan Police, the pro-Israel legal campaign group UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) accused Tower Hamlets Council of committing ‘multiple criminal offences’ by failing to remove Palestinian flags, posters and stickers around the borough.
The letter, written by Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI, stated that these ‘displays intimidate Jewish people and may encourage violence against them’.
According to Turner, under section 224(4)(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act, the owner or occupier of the land on which the flags, posters and stickers are displayed is liable for criminal offences once it knows of their display unless it takes all reasonable steps to secure their removal.
Is the council in breach of planning regulations by failing to remove the proliferation of Palestinian flags?
The legality of flying flags in the UK
According to the UK government, some flags require ‘express consent’ before they are flown, whilst others may be flown without the consent of the local planning authority.
In the UK, any country’s national flag may be flown without consent, provided the flag is kept in a safe condition and maintained in a way that does not impair the overall vision of a site. The flag must also not obscure the interpretation of official road, rail, waterway or aircraft signs.
According to Tower Hamlets Council, permitting flags to remain on lamp posts does not violate planning laws. In response to the UKLFI’s accusations, a spokesperson for the council said:
‘As one of the most diverse areas in the country, we are monitoring any community tensions closely with our Tension Monitoring Group, which includes the police and representatives from a broad range of community organisations.
‘Separately to Palestinian flags, the council will remove at the earliest opportunity any graffiti, posters or flags which are racist or generally offensive.
‘We are not aware of any criminal offences related to Palestinian flags not being removed, and we will continue to work closely with police partners to manage the situation.’
Whether or not the flags are legal, residents has diverse opinions about their presence in the borough. After reaching out to local readers, this is a selection of viewpoints representing the spectrum of beliefs in Tower Hamlets about this complex issue.
The viewpoints of local readers
‘I love them! I watched the number on lamp posts grow over the weeks. I’m glad they’re there as a reminder that we don’t stop supporting Palestine. It’s easy to become desensitized, or sick of hearing about it and move on. It makes me proud to be from Tower Hamlets and actually London in general. A Palestinian friend from the US saw a Palestinian flag in Scotland and was really overwhelmed by the international support. I sent him a video of it while my husband was driving around here – he couldn’t believe this could exist. It was beautiful.’ thetempleofbliss
‘I have a mixed Jewish and Muslim background and have always had a lot of sympathy for the Palestinian cause and I do currently have a lot of sympathy for the residents of Gaza. I don’t think that the Israeli government is doing the right thing. I would wager that most Jewish people don’t agree with the Israeli government right now. But they also don’t agree with, and feel frightened by the nonchalant attitude towards the raising of Palestinian flags around London. To many Jewish people this flag is not representative of the people suffering in Gaza, but of the people in charge of the country who explicitly demand that Jews be wiped off the face of the Earth. So it is quite upsetting to know that the flags are actually raising the spirits of other Londoners.’ Read the full Reader’s Letter here
‘Whilst my sympathies lie firmly with Palestine, I feel the flag is could be seen as antagonist/a symbol of hatred towards Israelis. It’s very different to flying our own flag, this makes a statement on a very real war.’ missychrissyn
‘I have two outside my flat and honestly when I open my curtains and see them flying it makes me feel proud to live in the neighbourhood and also gives me a feeling of hope. To see them flying against murals of Suffragettes shows that east London isn’t afraid to talk about right and wrong.’ abbiethomas247
‘For a Jewish person living in this borough, the Palestinian flags flying everywhere are threatening and intimidating. Anti-semitic attacks have risen massively since the start of the Israel/Palestine conflict and I feel unsafe.’ Read the full Reader’s Letter here
‘Our intention isn’t to “intimidate” our Jewish friends and neighbours. The flags we have put up around the borough, funded solely by donations from residents of Tower Hamlets, are in support of and in memory of the 20,000+ innocent Palestinian civilians that have been murdered by Israel. It is also in defiance of our government’s complicity in the current genocide taking place.’ Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Network
‘No one has brought it up yet but what about the Ukrainian flag? That’s up in loads of places in Tower Hamlets.’ Zubaida Chow
‘Whilst such a move is overtly “political”, I really fail to see how it’s less valid than the use of Ukrainian flags following the invasion by the Russian military. Indeed; such “support” for Ukraine was far more overt and normalised; many local authorities across the UK had big displays of solidarity involving the Ukrainian flag. Both Ukraine and Palestine have been invaded by countries with fascistic regimes, so it’s interesting to see how support for Palestine is demonised whereas support for Ukraine isn’t. There must be united outrage of what the government of Israel is doing right now, and unilateral condemnation of their actions. We in the UK must show support for oppressed people everywhere.’ Aziz Rahman
‘I think it’s fine to fly a flag on private property. I’ve personally hung a Ukrainian flag in my window in solidarity with Ukrainians fighting against Russia. Even before 7th October people often hung Palestinian flags in their windows in our area. However, the issue here is that the Palestinian flags are being flown from public property – mostly on lamp posts and in large numbers. The sheer volume of them across the borough and often in prominent places, such as the roundabout outside Victoria Park entrance, makes it look like the council has put them up. It reminds me of when we have state visits from other countries and the Mall and surrounding area fly the flag of a foreign visitor.’ Read Adam Wilson’s full Reader’s Letter here
‘As a Tower Hamlets resident I am proud that we have so many flags flying in support of Gaza against the horrendous genocide taking place. There is nothing controversial about flying the flag for basic human rights.’ nurjahan.khanom
‘The placement of hundreds of Palestinian flags across street lights all over Tower Hamlets is clearly a move to threaten and intimidate Jewish residents in this area. We are a minority and we are living in constant fear. Public spaces should be safe for everyone and should not be abused by a council to promote a particular agenda. The flags are accompanied by hundreds if not thousands of posters calling for “intifada” and violence against Jews. There is no escape from this antagonism when it is plastered across every part of the borough.’ Read James Henry’s full Reader’s Letter here
‘I love the flags. I support the end to war in Palestine and Israel but most of all I love to be a part of this community with so many links to Palestine, and the flags show solidarity with those, likewise ordinary, people, who due to the lottery of birth can’t claim the luxury of safety and peace we have here. It feels like we are part of something special and are supporting the Palestinian people from afar.’ singingilts
‘As an Israeli-American Jew raising young children in our wonderfully diverse borough, recent displays of Palestinian flags have sparked a mix of emotions within me. While I love raising my family here, these symbols have instilled a genuine fear and made me question if Tower Hamlets is a safe place for Jews.’ Read Talia S’s full Reader’s Letter here
‘I have no problem with people flying flags from their own homes or from their own windows. My issue is with them being on public buildings and lamp posts … The thing that makes the flags particularly intimidating and upsetting is that the same flags are being waved at marches every single weekend where people are shouting antisemitic comments, and have banners with antisemitic statements calling for the destruction of Israel … The fact is, for Jewish people, we cannot divorce the flags from antisemitism in this country, because that’s how they’re being used.’ Hilary Freeman
‘I am immensely proud of my borough. It’s heartening to see overt signs of support for human rights and justice in Tower Hamlets. Long may this continue.’ maariyahsyeda
‘We need to show our support for a community whose children, mothers, babies, teenagers, civilians are being crushed, burnt, handicapped, starved, threatened with illness… the least we can do is show support for their humanity by flying the flag. A symbol the Israeli government and soldiers are targeting when they continue their appalling punishment slaughter.’ Michael Newman
‘Born and bred Londoner here, for me I think for people to put up flags in their own businesses and properties is fine and people should feel free to. Unofficial flags of any type should not be put up on council property, as many people have said, it would be a different story if someone started to put up the Union Jack, the flag of England or the LGBTQ+ flag on street lamps across the area. Everybody should feel safe and welcome, it’s part of what has made the East End so welcoming.’ eastlondonrich
‘Couldn’t be more proud of my borough! Fills me we with hope and happiness to see so many Palestinian flags up and about. Hopefully, it sparks more conversations and thought from people visiting the area about why they are up!’ willmalorie
‘If locals want them, they should remain.’ pubs.of.london
We encourage all our readers to submit a Reader’s Letter.
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