The major Dutch cities have been divided on how to mark the eruption of violence in Israel at the weekend that left more than 1,500 people dead in attacks by Hamas and retaliatory strikes by the Israeli military.
Amsterdam was the only one of the four largest cities to fly the Israeli flag from its offices on Monday, in what mayor Femke Halsema called a gesture of support for “the people of Israel and Amsterdammers with friends and family in Israel who are living in fear and uncertainty”.
But the decision was criticised in some quarters for promoting a one-sided view of an “extremely complex conflict”. Arjen Barel, artistic director of the Amsterdam Storytelling Centre, wrote in Het Parool: “Of course I condemn the violence that Hamas has shown and which may go on for some time. But it’s naïve to think it comes from nowhere.”
Barel, who was in a Palestinian village in northern Israel when the Hamas attacks began, said: “By raising the flag, Amsterdam is supporting the Israeli government. One that is seen by many as far-right and undemocratic, and often openly called racist, even by many Israelis.”
Amsterdam replaced the Israeli flag on Tuesday with the international flag of peace.
The council said it only intended to fly Israel’s flag for one day. “The conflict in the Middle East has been going on for a long time and made victims of many innocent citizens,” it said in a statement.
“Since this weekend we have faced a new, dramatic low point. So for the rest of the week the international flag of peace will be raised above the city hall.”
Rotterdam’s mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb opted to fly the city’s flag at half mast following several hours of talks with community groups, despite coming under pressure from several parties on the council to raise the blue Star of David flag.
Aboutaleb’s spokesman said the flag was being flown “for all civilian victims of the recent explosion of violence between Palestinians and Israelis”. But the decision was branded “scandalous” by the largest party on the council, Leefbaar Rotterdam.
Councillor Simon Ceulemans said it was a “very bad sign”. “The character of his response is: ‘Where two sides are fighting, both are in the wrong’, when this was clearly an attack by Hamas on Israeli territory.”
The chair of the city’s Jewish community, Chris den Hoedt, turned down an invitation from Aboutaleb to discuss the situation on Monday. He contrasted the mayor’s decision not to fly the flag with a pro-Palestinian demonstration that was held on the Coolsingel on Sunday.
“If a pro-terror demonstration is allowed and a small gesture of solidarity for the victims of this violence is too much for the city council, then we have nothing to discuss,” Den Hoedt told AD.
Coolsingel, zondagmiddag: pic.twitter.com/9lUvBQFJzu
— Peter Groenendijk (@groenendijkp) October 8, 2023
Most of the demonstrators taking part in Sunday’s march carried the flag of Palestine rather than Hamas, while some held banners saying “Free Palestine” and “Boycot Israel”.
Aboutaleb said in a letter to councillors that he was not prepared to take sides in a conflict that had the potential to raise tensions among the city’s population.
“Rotterdam is a city with inhabitants from all corners of the world, so a conflict elsewhere affects people who live here,” he wrote. “It’s my job as mayor to keep the peace and social order in the city and not do anything that increases polarisation.”
In The Hague, the Israeli flag hung above government ministries, in line with Mark Rutte’s statement that “hanging up a flag is the least we can do”. But the city council took the same decision as Rotterdam to fly its own green and yellow flag instead.
Mayor Jan van Zanen defended the decision not to raise the Israeli flag. “The situation in Israel so soon after the outbreak of violence is so unclear that this is not an opportune moment,” he said.
But Richard de Mos, leader of Hart voor Den Haag, said: “The Hague should have followed the example of international cities such as Berlin, Prague and Rome.
“Israel is a friendly nation that has been attacked by a foreign terrorist movement,” De Mos said. “As the international city of peace and justice we should not be left behind.”
Utrecht: city flag
In Utrecht, mayor Sharon Dijksma raised the city’s flag at half-mast on Sunday, adding in a statement: “Our thoughts go out to people from Utrecht with relatives in the affected areas.”
Dijksma also faced criticism for not raising the Israeli flag, but local VVD chair Marijn de Pagter, in contrast to his party colleagues in Rotterdam, gave the mayor his backing.
“The images are dreadful,” De Pagter said. “That’s why we think it’s a good decision by the city authorities to fly the flag of Utrecht at half mast, just as we have for earlier international events.”
We volgen de situatie in en rondom Israël met grote zorg. Op het stadhuis hangt maandag de Utrechtse vlag halfstok voor alle burgerslachtoffers die zijn gevallen bij het hevige geweld afgelopen weekend. Onze gedachten gaan uit naar Utrechters met naasten in de getroffen gebieden.
— Sharon Dijksma (@sharon_dijksma) October 8, 2023
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