The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has left thousands of people dead since October 7, leading to demonstrations in cities across the world. At a pro-Palestinian rally in Athens on November 5, a protester climbed a lamppost near the Greek parliament and attached the Greek and Palestinian flags together. However, images of the event spread rapidly across social media with the claim that the man had removed a Greek flag and replaced it with a Palestinian one. As a video of the event shows, he did not remove the Greek flag. A journalist who was present confirmed this to AFP.
Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7 killed about 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, with around 240 others taken hostage, according to Israeli officials. It sparked a furious response from Israel: in Gaza, more than 11,200 people, also mostly civilians, were killed in Israeli bombardment by November 14, health officials in the Hamas-run territory said.
The Athens protest on November 5 was organised by the All Workers Fighting Front (P.A.ME) union. During the gathering, a man climbed a lamppost holding a Palestinian flag. He was then handed a rod bearing both the Palestinian and Greek flags, and he attached all three to the post with rope.
However, social media posts showed pictures of his actions in reverse order with false claims that the man had taken down a Greek flag and replaced it with a Palestinian one.
An example is this November 6 post on Facebook which says: “Arab nationalist lowers Greek flag from a column in Syntagma Square in front of the Euzones and lifts the flag of the Pan-Arab uprising (including Palestine).” The claim angered many social media users, some of whom insulted the protester (here, here). The claim was also shared in Cyprus.
Police said later they had arrested the 22-year-old man under a law on sovereign rights and diplomatic relations, but released him hours afterwards.
Video of the event and a journalist who was there, as well as Greece’s Minister for Citizen Protection, confirmed that the protester did not take down a Greek flag.
No Greek flag was removed
First, we geolocated the images which clearly come from Queen Amalia Avenue in front of the Greek Parliament. The lampost that the man climbed on can be seen in the below photo from Google Maps.
Through a keyword search using the words “Palestinian flag” on Facebook, we found various videos that captured the scene as the man climbed the pole, for example here (archived link), here (archived link) and here (archived link).
In this video, we see that he climbed up the pole with a Palestinian flag (screenshot 1), which he waved at the crowd and then attached with a rope.
Then another man with a scarf wrapped around his head hands him a stick bearing both a Palestinian and a Greek flag (screenshot 2), which are both larger in size than the first flag. The first man fixes the rod with the two flags in the same place as the first smaller Palestinian flag (screenshots 3 and 4), putting all three flags together.
During the sequence, the Greek flags in the middle of the pole remain at their place, as can be seen below.
Social media posts with the false claim show the sequence in reverse order. There is a picture of the man with the Greek and Palestinian flags tied to the pole on the left and then on the right a picture of him with his thumbs up from the moment before, when he had only attached the smaller Palestinian flag.
The order suggests that the scene on the left happened before the one on the right. But this is false.
Rigopoulos told AFP in a message exchange on November 8, 2023: “The 22-year-old climbed up the pole, going past the Greek flags with the national symbol that were hanging there, and went up and tied a small Palestinian flag. Then another person climbed up wearing a headscarf that covered his face and gave him a stick with both the Palestinian and the Greek flags.”
“In the end, they left the flags there and left,” he said. Rigopoulos’ photos also show the sequence of events:
The man did not take down a Greek flag but, rather, attached both the Greek and Palestinian flags to the pole. The two Greek flags hanging lower down were untouched.
Three days after the protest, on November 8, the two Greek flags and the badge remained in place, as seen in the below picture taken by an AFP journalist.
The protester detained for a few hours
The man who attached the flags was arrested two days after the demonstration, on November 7, the Hellenic Police said in a press release. Police said he was a “22-year-old citizen of Palestine”.
The minister for Citizen Protection, Giannis Oikonomou, wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “Following a meticulous investigation by the @hellenicpolice the person who put a Palestinian and then a Greek flag on a pole, in the context of a demonstration at Syntagma on Sunday, was arrested. The arrested man is being led to justice.”
Oikonomou’s post also says that the man tied a Greek and a Palestinian flag onto the lamppost.
According to news reports, he man was arrested on the grounds of Article 141 of the Penal Code, which deals with sovereign rights and diplomatic relations. This was confirmed to AFP by the Hellenic Police’s press officer, Konstantia Dimoglidou, in a phone call on November 9.
Article 141 of the Penal Code states: “Anyone who, by acts that call into question the sovereign rights of another state or by other provocative actions, exposes the Greek state or an ally of it or their inhabitants to the risk of reprisals or exposes the friendly relations of Greece or an ally of it with a foreign state to the risk of disturbance, shall be punished by imprisonment for up to three years or a fine.”
Dimoglidou told AFP that the 22-year-old was released after a few hours and that it was up to the public prosecutor to decide whether criminal charges would be brought against him.
He was not arrested under Article 191A which deals with the removal of the national flag. It states: “Anyone who publicly removes, destroys, deforms or pollutes the official flag of the State or an emblem of its sovereignty or sonically interferes with the public performance of the national anthem, thus endangering public order, shall be punished by imprisonment for up to two years or a fine.”
AFP has previously debunked misinformation related to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict here.