Israeli police in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem have banned shop owners selling t-shirts featuring the Palestinian flag and other symbols of Palestinian nationalism. The discriminatory crackdown is the latest attempt to erase the Palestinian identity and national aspirations in the occupied city of Jerusalem. While the Old City’s shops offer apparel celebrating the Israeli military and far-right soccer clubs, Palestinian imagery is now branded as contraband.
Among the prohibited items are t-shirts with the slogan “Free Palestine”, images of the iconic Palestinian key representing the right of return and souvenirs depicting maps of historic Palestine. Shopkeepers told Haaretz that police have pressured them to refrain from openly displaying such items and in some cases to stop selling them altogether.
Over the past year, police have expanded their ban to include any garment or accessory deemed to promote “terrorism and violence.” The absurd logic pretends a Palestinian flag inspires more violence than the Israeli gun culture on brazen display. Police have expanded the policy over the past two months to include clothing and accessories with Palestinian nationalist symbols.
This policy builds on recent efforts by Israeli lawmakers to outlaw the raising of the Palestinian flag during demonstrations. In recent weeks, protesters in Sheikh Jarrah have been arrested for simply waving the flag. Even Palestinian school children are not immune – police have been searching their bags on the Al-Aqsa compound and confiscating textbooks which contain images of the flag.
Shop owners said that police first issue warnings to remove the prohibited items. If the shopkeepers resist, police mobilise other agencies like the Health Ministry to find excuses to punish them. “The police walk by and say we cannot have anything Palestinian,” said one merchant. “I’m not interested in politics, I just want to make money. But the flag is all they care about, not the violence and racism everywhere.”
The intensifying crackdown in East Jerusalem is part of an ongoing campaign to erase Palestine. The Partition Plan of 1947 laid the groundwork for the Zionist expulsion and erasure of Palestine. In the lead-up to Israel’s independence in 1948, Zionist groups carried out massacres and forced removals of Palestinians from their ancestral lands, in what Palestinians call the Nakba. By 1949, around 750,000 Palestinians had been displaced and over 500 villages wiped off the map.
In the decades since, Israel has continued its project of erasing Palestinian identity through censoring cultural symbols, Hebrewising place names that had existed from the time of the Roman and Christian empire, confiscating land, and enacting discriminatory laws against Palestinians. Despite these systematic efforts, Palestinian memory and struggle persists in the face of ongoing attempts to remove them from history.
Symbols of Palestinian nationalism have already been banned within the 1967 borders. The policy is being enforced within the West Bank, indicating that the apartheid state makes no distinction between territory it occupies and territory within its borders according to international law.