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Pro-Palestine murals in London face council review and removal

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Council authorities have moved to take down pro-Palestine murals in east London, while another is being reviewed after complaints were made by pro-Israel lawyers.

The latter, which depicts four journalists standing against a backdrop of ruins and under the words “Heroes of Palestine”, went up last month in Redbridge, east London, as local authorities came under pressure over similar murals.

In other areas of London, murals depicting Palestinian medical professionals and media workers have been defaced in some cases or painted over with pro-Israeli graffiti.

However, the decision by council officials in Tower Hamlets to remove the murals was embroiled in fresh controversy after their own mayor said the action was wrong.

Lutfur Rahman, indicating he had been unaware of the move until it was reported earlier in the day by the Guardian, said on Friday evening that he had not been made aware of the removal and that he was urgently seeking clarification of how it had happened.

“Murals of Palestinian children, doctors & journalists murdered in Gaza should never be conflated with hate speech,” he said on X.

Alia Shaikh, who collaborated with a group of artists who made the mural in Redbridge, said a council officer had knocked on her door and told her that complaints had been made about the large mural on the wall of her home, which they had described as an “advertisement”.

“We were really surprised. There has been nothing but a positive response since it went up. It’s also not an advert. It’s an expression of emotion,” she said.

Redbridge council said it was “currently reviewing” the mural and that the local planning authority had never received an application for it.

A group called UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLI) said Redbridge was one of a number of councils – including Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Worcester and Lambeth – it had contacted.

The letters claimed that the murals had proved to be divisive in the communities where they had been sited and asserted that councils were legally required to foster good relations between different religious and ethnic communities.

UKLI said Tower Hamlets council had removed pro-Palestine murals that had been painted in various locations around the borough, after one of the letters of complaint. The murals included one of Hind Osama Al-Khoudary, a journalist, that had already been defaced, and one of Doaah Albaz, another journalist, which has been removed from the Mile End skate park.

Two murals on Watney Street were also removed, while the council also informed the group that it had contacted an antisocial behaviour team about paintings on shutters at another location.

“Councils have powers to remove these murals and should do so as a priority where the murals promote one side of the current war, in view of their impact on community cohesion,” said Caroline Turner, the group’s director.

However, Redbridge council was criticised by the Labour MP for Ilford South, Sam Tarry, who described the local authority’s actions as “an authoritarian act of harassment that would normally only be expected in a dictatorship”.

He said: “It’s outrageous that Redbridge council is attempting to force a private resident to remove an artistic mural that highlights the human rights abuses inflicted on the Palestinian people by the Israeli government. I have received tens of thousands of pieces of correspondence from my constituents in Ilford urging an end to the bloodshed in Gaza.

“The council must immediately abandon its action against my constituent and issue a full apology for the distress and sheer offence it has caused.”

A Tower Hamlets council spokesperson said: “We remove all graffiti from council-owned buildings and property as quickly as possible. For private properties, it is the owner’s responsibility to keep their property clear of graffiti, but with their agreement we can help with removal.”

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