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Schoolchildren in UK face punishments for supporting Palestine

Teacher labels Palestinian flag ‘call to arms,’ later apologizes for inflammatory remarks

Muhammad Mussa   | 27.05.2021
Schoolchildren in UK face punishments for supporting Palestine

LONDON

Israel’s most recent attacks on Palestinians in the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem have not only stirred mass demonstrations on the streets of the UK but also within its schools.

Pro-Palestinian protests erupted in a number of schools across the UK in response to the Israeli attacks on Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and compound as well as airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.

Students, however, have faced repercussions from school authorities with one headteacher labelling the Palestinian flag a “call to arms” and a “symbol” of antisemitism. Such remarks and comments have attracted anger and rebuke and questions are being asked as to why children are being punished for expressing their thoughts.

“The problem is by using a symbol such as the Palestinian flag, that message is lost because for some people, they see that flag and they feel threatened, they feel unsafe and they worry and for other people that flag is seen as a call to arms and seen as a message of support for antisemitism and for being anti-Jewish and it was never meant to be like that in the first place,” Mike Roper, headteacher of Allerton Grange school, said in an online message.

Roper later apologized for his inflammatory remarks, arguing that it was never his intention to upset students and the community at large. The head teacher is to meet with the students’ representative body to discuss what action can be taken to address the grievances at large.

The school itself will work with international organizations and charities and assist them in their campaigns in the Middle East and hold a panel for both students and teachers on the conflict in Palestine.

“I am deeply sorry that a particular example I used in that mixed assemble, referring to the Palestinian flag, has caused such upset within the community. That was never my intention. The full message shared with students last week praised our students’ passion for their views and beliefs. It set out how we want to work through the issues highlighted with our students in an informed and respectful way,” Roper said in his letter of apology.

The incident at Allerton Grange is one such example as students from Birmingham, Manchester, Rochdale and London have faced similar hostile reactions. At Clapton Girls’ Academy in east London, teachers had removed posters and displays of Palestine and its struggle following a protest by students who staged a sit-in in the school and chanted “Free Palestine.”

Authorities at Loreto College in Manchester closed down the school after 200 students had planned a demonstration. Despite its closure, the students and local residents gathered outside the college’s gates and waved Palestinian flags and chanted pro-Palestinian slogans and chants.

In Older Hill, Rochdale, a secret audio recording shows a teacher reprimanding a seventh grade student for expressing his support and sympathy for the Palestinian children murdered by Israeli forces.

In the audio recording, the teacher denied that “babies and children” were being killed by Israeli air raids. The teacher accused the student of having “racist views” and told him to “take them somewhere else,” arguing that “everybody is entitled to their own opinion … but not in school.”

An Egypt-brokered cease-fire between Palestinian resistance groups and Israel came into effect in the Gaza Strip on May 21, putting an end to 11 days of fighting.

At least 254 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children and 39 women, and more than 1,900 others injured in Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, while 31 more were killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, according to official Palestinian figures.

Thirteen Israelis also died in Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

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