People expressing support for Hamas after their terrorist attack on Israel can expect “to be dealt with”, a senior Metropolitan Police officer has said.
Deputy Commissioner Dame Lynne Owens warned shows of support for the terrorist organisation or bids to intimidate the UK's Jewish community in the wake of Saturday's incursion was a criminal offence.
The Hamas terrorist attack on Israel has led to large numbers of people demonstrating in favour of Palestinian rights across the country. Some 2,000 pro-Palestine demonstrators amassed in front of the Israeli embassy in London to call for further violence.
A video also emerged of motorists waving Palestinian flags, beeping car horns and clapping in Acton, West London.
Meanwhile, the number of antisemitic incidents reported to the Community Security Trust (CST) has trebled following Hamas's attack on Israel.
In a bid to reassure London’s Jewish community after Saturday’s attack, the Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner told the JC the “law is very clear”.
Dame Owens said: “I can understand why, just days after such a barbaric terrorist attack, the sight of people gathering outside the Israeli Embassy, waving flags, chanting, letting off flares, some with scarves across their faces, will be interpreted by many of you as a direct statement of support for what took place on Saturday in Israel.
“Many of you will no doubt find it morally reprehensible, intimidating, and even frightening and I can understand why there is an expectation that the police would have acted to stop the demonstration or to take action against those involved.”
The scene where a rocket fired from Gaza into Southern Israel, hit and caused damaged in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon (Photo: Flash 90)
The senior Metropolitan Police officer went on to remind people that Hamas was a proscribed terrorist organisation under UK law.
Dame Owens added: “Anyone who expresses support for these organisations, waves their flag, holds up a placard or directly expresses support for them is committing an offence and can expect to be dealt with."
However, Dame Owens made clear that police officers cannot “interpret support for the Palestinian cause more broadly as automatically being support for Hamas or any other proscribed group.”
“The law is very specific and we have to act within it,” she added. “An expression of support for the Palestinian people more broadly, including flying the Palestinian flag, does not, alone, constitute a criminal offence.”
Dame Owens went on to say: “Of course, behaviour at protests goes beyond what is and isn’t seen as support for proscribed groups.
“I know that in the past we have seen people use these opportunities to make statements that are quite clearly antisemitic and a hate crime.
“Abuse or intimidation that is religiously motivated will not be accepted and officers will act when they see it.”
Dame Owens described the attack on Saturday morning as “appalling” and added: “ The murder of more than 900 people and the kidnapping of so many others – including children and the elderly – must be condemned in the strongest terms.
“We also understand that it has had a direct impact on people across the world, including right here in London, particularly those of you in our Jewish communities, including the Jewish officers and staff who work for the Met.”
She said the Metropolitan Police “stands firm” with London’s Jewish community and pledged the force was doing “all that we can” to ensure Jewish Londoners “feel safe and protected here at home.”
She added: “Nobody should be concerned about their child’s journey to school, their safety on a bus or a train, their visit to the shops, or to a place of worship.
“Working with community leaders and the CST, we are increasing our presence at schools and synagogues and in communities.
“Our neighbourhood policing teams and dedicated schools’ officers will be there to provide assurance and support, but also to investigate and prosecute any instances of antisemitic hate or harassment.”
Dame Owens continued: “I know that many families will today be grieving and fearful for their friends and relatives in Israel.
“It must be unimaginably painful to be so far away from people you are so close to at times like these.
Screenshot of Londoners partying in response to the terror attack (Image: Twitter / X)
“Please know you are in our minds and that we stand ready to support investigations and to help get Britons home if called on by the Government to assist.”
Dame Owens also praised the UK Jewish community's trust in policing after previous incidents such as the 2017 London Bridge terror attack and Manchester Arena bombing.
She explained: “In London, within hours of the awful events on Westminster Bridge, the Chief Rabbi reached out, his support quickly mirrored in Tel Aviv with our flag displayed in solidarity at its city hall.
“And in Manchester, a local rabbi brought hot drinks to officers guarding the terrible scene at the Arena, speaking about the need to stand together, shoulder to shoulder, demonstrating acts of enduring kindness.
"Today it is those of you in the Jewish community who need our support and our solidarity.”
It comes after Home Secretary Suella Braverman urged police officers to use the "full force of the law" against shows of support for Hamas.
In a letter addressed to chief constables in England and Wales, Braverman said: "Sadly, experience indicates that whenever Israel is attacked, Islamists and other racists seek to use legitimate Israeli defensive measures as a pretext to stir up hatred against British Jews and increase fear within the Jewish community".
The senior Conservative politician added: "I encourage all chief officers to ensure that any protests which could exacerbate community tensions by way of offensive placards, chants, or behaviours that could be construed as incitement or harassment, have a strong police presence to ensure perpetrators are appropriately dealt with, and that communities feel protected."
Braverman, in her letter to police chiefs sent on Tuesday, said she recognises that decisions on arrests are "rightly an operational matter for police", while urging forces to "use all available powers to prevent disorder and distress to our communities".
"It is not just explicit pro-Hamas symbols and chants that are cause for concern," said Braverman, who on Monday visited Golders Green.
"I would encourage police to consider whether chants such as 'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free' should be understood as an expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world, and whether its use in certain contexts may amount to a racially aggravated Section five public order offence.
"I would encourage police to give similar consideration to the presence of symbols such as swastikas at anti-Israel demonstrations. Context is crucial.
"Behaviours that are legitimate in some circumstances, for example the waving of a Palestinian flag, may not be legitimate such as when intended to glorify acts of terrorism.
"Nor is it acceptable to drive through Jewish neighbourhoods, or single out Jewish members of the public, to aggressively chant or wave pro-Palestinian symbols at.
"Where harassment is identified, I would encourage the police to take swift and appropriate enforcement action."
On Saturday, Hamas terrorists crossed the Gaza border into Israel and fired thousands of rockets in an unprecedented incursion, which also saw a music festival targeted.