North Andover

Proposal to fly Palestinian flag at Mass. town common prompts ‘threats of litigation'

Monday's North Andover Select Board meeting was canceled on the advice of the town manager and police chief, according to a notice

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A Massachusetts town postponed a select board meeting Monday hours before it was slated to hear a proposal to raise a Palestinian flag over the town common.

A large number of protesters were expected to attend the 7 p.m. meeting in response to the request for a permit to raise the flag at North Andover Town Common for a month starting Tuesday, Nov. 7 — a month after Hamas surprise-attacked Israel, sparking a bloody, ongoing war in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

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The meeting was canceled on the advice of the town manager and police chief, according to a notice released Monday by North Andover.

"Due to threats of litigation, as well as public safety concerns and space constraints under the Open Meeting Law, the Town Manager and the Police Chief have advised the Select Board to cancel tonight’s meeting and refer the flag matter to Town Counsel for review," the notice read. "The meeting will be rescheduled."

The permit to raise the flag was requested by a resident, according to the permit application, which was included with the postponed meeting's agenda.

An Israeli flag has been flying in the North Andover Town Common since about a week after Hamas launched its Oct. 7 attack

“The fact that the Israeli flag was raised a couple of days after was in solidarity for an American ally," North Andover Rabbi Idan Irelander said.

A Bentley University student who grew up here thought, it’s only fair to fly the Palestinian flag, too. So she filed a permit to raise one for one month starting Tuesday. Her dad told NBC10 Boston it’s about representation:

“This flag has been up for one month now and what we’re asking for and what my daughter submitted the petition for is to have the other flag raised," Tamer Khayal said.

But some in the local Jewish community argue the flag represents something else entirely:

“For us seeing a Palestinian flag represents hatred, darkness, antisemitism," Irelander said.

The Merrick Valley Jewish Federation sent out email blasts urging about two thousand of its members to rally against it:

“There was I think a fear that matters would get out of hand and that people on both sides of the proposal would enflame each other," explained Executive Director Laurie Tishler Mindlin.

And hundreds of people like Nour Douffir already sent in public comments, arguing for what they think is right:

“The fact that the Israeli flag is just up already without any of the difficulties just speaks to the difference in treatment on either side," Dourffir said.

The town's flag raising policy, as listed in the Select Board Policy Manual, notes that the flag poles on the common "are not intended to serve as a forum for free expression by the public, but rather as expressions of the Town’s official sentiments." It continues that flags of governments recognized by the U.S. and others "displayed in conjunction with official Town events or ceremonies" may be flown instead of North Andover's at the common if the select board approves it as "a display of the Town’s official sentiments."

The war in Gaza and its high civilian death toll has sparked major interest in Massachusetts, where rallies for and against Israel's ground invasion were held this weekend, and around the world. On Monday, Israel's military said it had split Gaza in half.

As the Israel-Hamas war continues in the Middle East, so too do rallies across Massachusetts, supporting both Israelis and Palestinians. One rally was held in Brookline on Sunday, while the other was held in Braintree.

More than 1,000 people have died in both Israel and Gaza, local authorities have said. Hamas on Monday continued to hold about 240 hostages, according to the Israeli military.

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