London’s ‘little Palestine’ to remove flags from buildings, schools and lampposts

Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman announced the move after lawyers threatened legal action against the council


Palestinian flags will start coming down from council buildings in Tower Hamlets after lawyers threatened legal action, mayor Lutfur Rahman has said.

Local residents told the JC in January that the flags – which first appeared on council-owned property soon after October 7 and have been seen on bus stops, lampposts and buildings – were “intimidatory”.

Many of the flags were put up in clusters around schools.

Some Jewish residents have considered leaving the borough, which has been dubbed ‘Little Palestine’ because of the ubiquitous flags.

Legal advocacy group UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), who had threatened legal action against the council, said they were “delighted” with the decision.

The council sought independent legal advice which allegedly agreed with the UKFLI view that the flags broke the law.

A freedom of information (FOI) request sent to the council by the JC has revealed it received 290 complaints or enquiries regarding Palestinian flags from October 2023 until now. This figure differed from the 355 number quoted in a separate FOI, raising questions about the council’s monitoring of the situation.

The council refused to comment on the legal status of the flags.

In February, Labour Councillor Marc Francis said: “It is not acceptable to allow Palestinian flags to be left hanging on Tower Hamlets Council’s lampposts.

“I and other councillors have raised this repeatedly with the Chief Executive and other senior council officers. However, they have failed to do anything about it. I can only assume that is because the Executive Mayor has told them not to.”

Jonathan Turner, director of UK Lawyers for Israel, first wrote to the council in January, warning that the flags were illegal.

The lawyer sent a second letter to the council on 11 March, which the council had 14 days to respond to.

Rahman, a member of the Aspire Party, rejected criticism of the flags. In his statement, the mayor denied they were “symbols of division” and said he had decided to remove them following advice from the council’s Chief Executive Stephen Halsey.

Rahman said: “I understand that those who have erected these flags across the borough have done so in line with our strong tradition of solidarity and I reject that they are symbols of division.

“Although these flags are an understandable expression of solidarity, I now feel they are being used to unfairly attack the people of the borough and further the Islamophobic narrative.”

Rahman’s comments come as his running of the council has come under a government review, marking the government’s second probe into Tower Hamlets in a decade.

In its response to the JC's FOI, the council did not divulge how many flags it had removed to date, deeming such a disclosure a threat to public safety. “The issue of flag removal within the borough has been one that has been reasonably linked to community safety and community tension,” the council stated.

It is not known when the council will start the process of flag removal. Council employees in Redbridge allegedly took down Palestinian flags at night, such is the tension around their removal.

UK Lawyers for Israel said they reserved the possibility of legal proceedings if the council did not remove all of the flags.

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