Two men were arrested at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in front of the Israeli embassy in London on Saturday after they refused to take down a Hezbollah flag they had hoisted on a pole.
Abbas Ali and Antonio Maniscalco were warned by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (which was one of the organisers of the demonstration against Israeli brutality in the occupied territories) that only Palestinian national flags would be welcome at the protest.
Police arrested the pair after they refused to take down the Hezbollah flag for disrupting the peace and for supporting a proscribed terrorist organisation.
The pair spent around 15 hours in custody at Belgravia police station where they say they were questioned by counter-terrorism officers before being released without charge
They are now on police bail and are not allowed to associate with each other or attend any further demonstrations until November 20th when they must report to the police again.
Abbas Ali is a veteran pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel campaigner who runs the Inminds website. He told 5Pillars that he had hoisted the Hezbollah flag because he supports a political party that campaigns for justice in Palestine. He added that he had been asked to move other anti-Israel banners at a previous protest organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
“There were other flags at the demonstration such as pro-Morsi and Hamas symbols and someone actually broke our flagpole but the police didn’t do anything to them,” he said.
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“After we were initially told to take down the flag by people on the podium and by someone at the demonstration we moved across the road. We also told the police that we were in a public place so we saw no reason to take down the flag – we had as much right to protest as anyone else but the police kept hounding us.”
Ali said that the police had also raided his house and taken PCs, laptops and memory cards. Mr Maniscalco’s residence was also raided.
He added: “I think we were targeted by people in the crowd who had a sectarian agenda or who were upset because of the situation in Syria. I’m not saying they were from the PSC but I do believe we were targeted. But if the PSC called the police on us they should recognise they should not have done that. A broad range of people support the Palestinian cause and they have the right to express themselves.”
Hezbollah has historically been viewed in the Middle East as a Lebanese resistance group which has fought Israeli aggression on several occasions. It even succeeded in driving Israel out of the vast majority of Lebanon in 2000 and again fought a war with it in 2006.
However, Hezbollah – which adheres to the Shia branch of Islam – has played a controversial role in the current Syrian conflict where it has supported President Bashar al Assad.
Those who support Hezbollah say they are fighting an existential war against sectarian terrorists and their Gulf/Western backers who would destroy the region, but the group’s detractors say that it is propping up a murderous tyrant who is killing and oppressing the Syrian people.
In Britain, the military wing of Hezbollah is proscribed but there is some doubt as to whether the Hezbollah flag represents the military or political wing (which isn’t proscribed) or both.
Meanwhile, on social media Mr Maniscalco said he had a “right to freedom of expression and speech.” He acknowledged that the organisers had the right to administer their own protest but they did not have the right to tell people what to do on a public street.
He said: “I believe we all have the right to protest against occupation and Zionists in every way we all feel necessary… as activists for Palestine and human rights we all have different opinions in several matters but the bottom line is to respect each and everyone wish to express themselves.”
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Saturday’s protest, which was attended by around 2,000 people, was organised by Friends of Al-Aqsa, the Palestinian Forum in Britain, the Muslim Association of Britain, Islamic Forum of Europe, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, FOSIS and the Stop the War Coalition.
The PSC’s Sarah Colborne told 5Pillars that the organisers of the event had clearly made a request before the demonstration for only Palestinian flags to be raised. This was also made a number of times from the platform during the protest.
However, she did not conform or deny if any of the organisers had alerted the police to Mr Ali and Mr Maniscalco’s actions.
She also sent 5Pillars a pre-event statement which read: “We have come together to unite for Palestine. We have come together to unite for peace, freedom, and justice. To unite against hatred, intolerance and racism…
“We welcome all who stand with us in our opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. Supporters of Palestinian rights encompass all faiths and none. Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, religious and non-religious people all stand together on this protest.
“We condemn antisemitism, Islamophobia or any form of racism. Palestinians have seen their lives destroyed by the horrific scourge of Israeli racism, colonialism and apartheid. We stand with Palestinians in their struggle for a future free of racism, colonialism and apartheid. There is no place for racism in a progressive movement fighting for justice and human rights.
“The organisers ask that those present respect the Palestinian national flag, and use only this flag, showing our steadfastness, unity and solidarity with Palestine.”