The annual al-Quds Day rally through central London passed without incident on Sunday, despite its first-ever counter protest and the sight of pro-Palestinian activists waving Hezbollah flags through the city centre.
Despite complaints made to police about the flags, no arrests were made, after “several thousand” made their way from the BBC, past Oxford Street and towards the U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square, protesting against Israel.
The yellow Hezbollah flag was repeatedly seen, either raised as a standard or worn as clothing garments, after organisers refused to advise protesters against it, suggesting that it was “not unlawful”.
While the armed wing of Hezbollah is listed as a terrorist group, the political wing is not, yet the two elements share the same flag. The Home Office had earlier been asked to clarify the situation, but only added to the ambiguity.
A spokesman said: “For it to be an offence for an individual to display the flags for these organisations, the context and manner in which the flag is displayed must demonstrate that it is specifically in support of the proscribed elements of the group.”
Home Secretary Theresa May, who is trying to become prime minister, has previously suggested that such acts would fall under Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000. When two men who flew Hezbollah flags during Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the UK last year were subsequently arrested under this law, it appeared to signal a change in direction.
The al-Quds Day rally was inaugurated in 1979 by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who asked for the last Friday in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan to be set aside as a day for uniting against Israel and showing support for Palestinians.
This year however saw the first ever counter-demonstration, led by the Zionist Federation, while the National Union of Students’ new black students’ officer Adam Muuse and Jewish anti-Zionist Michel Warschawski were among the protest’s speakers.
A CST spokesperson told Jewish News they “and our communal colleagues have long campaigned for the Hizbollah flag to be banned from the streets of Britain, but it continues to be allowed, despite literally having an assault rifle on it. Our appeals regarding the flag come after Prime Minister Cameron’s successful and important drive to successfully ban Hizbollah, which we were proud to support. Nevertheless, the banning left a distinction being made between Hizbollah’s political and military wings: when no such distinction exists in our minds, nor in Hizbollah’s own statements and actions.”
Pro-Israel activist and blogger David Collier, who disguised himself to march with the protesters, said: “I have attended scores of events and witnessed some truly vile statements. But there was something about marching with them, something about seeing the Hezbollah flag on the streets of London, that I found deeply disturbing.”