Palestinian flag at Harvard raised by protesters, not university staff

Harvard University said it did not replace a US flag on campus with a Palestinian one, contrary to social media posts that surfaced as pro-Palestinian protests swept colleges across the United States. The posts shared a photo of a Palestinian flag that was in fact raised by demonstrators on April 27, 2024. The university and a reporter from Harvard's student newspaper said the flag was quickly removed.

"Harvard University removed the American flag and replaced it with the Palestinian flag," reads the simplified Chinese caption of a Weibo post shared on May 2, 2024.

The post shows a photo of a US flag flying at Harvard University above a statue of its founder John Harvard. The picture was not taken during the ongoing pro-Palestinian protests and was originally posted on photo-sharing site Flickr in November 2022 (archived link). 

A second photo shows a Palestinian flag raised above the same statue.

Screenshot of the false Weibo post, captured on May 6, 2024.

Similar posts spread on various platforms, including X, Facebook, InstagramThreads and TikTok.

The posts surfaced as pro-Palestinian protests swept US college campuses, while authorities appeared to be running out of patience and police began to push back forcefully.

Demonstrators have gathered on at least 40 US university campuses since April 17, often erecting tent camps to protest the soaring death toll in Gaza and call for a ceasefire.

They are also calling for colleges to severe ties with Israel and companies that they say profit from the conflict.

Gaza's bloodiest-ever war broke out following Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures. Militants also seized some 250 hostages.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed more than 34,700 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Some social media users appeared to believe Harvard University genuinely raised the Palestinian flag.

"Kudos to Harvard," one Weibo user commented.

"Harvard has become a Palestinian enclave now," another wrote.

Student protests

A Google reverse image search found  the photo of the Palestinian flag raised at Harvard in an Instagram post from April 27, 2024 by student-led protest group Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine (archived link).

"WE FLY FOR PALESTINE," reads the post that calls for Harvard University to cut ties with Israeli.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo shared in the false social media posts (left) and posted on Instagram (right):

Screenshot comparison of the photo shared in false social media posts (left) and posted on Instagram (right)

Three Palestinian flags were raised by protesters at around 6 pm (2200 GMT) on April 27, according to The Harvard Crimson student newspaper (archived link).

"A group of three protesters hoisted the flags over the John Harvard statue in the Yard, where the University sometimes flies the American flag or flags of the countries of visiting foreign dignitaries," it reported.

It said university staff removed the flags about one hour later.

Harvard University said in a statement that the flags raised by protesters over University Hall had been removed by staff and that the individuals involved "will be subject to disciplinary action" (archived link).

"The American flag was not flying on University Hall at the time the other flags were raised," the university added.

The statement said the US flag is raised on University Hall each Monday through Friday at 7 am (1100 GMT) and lowered at 4 pm (2000 GMT) for storage, in accordance with university procedures.

The Harvard Crimson published a photo on May 3, 2024 showing the US flag flying over University Hall (archived link).

A photo showing the US flag flying at Harvard University on May 3, 2024

Jack Trapanick, a reporter for The Harvard Crimson who took the photo, confirmed the image was taken on May 3.

He told AFP the Palestinian flag was raised on the weekend and the US flag "has continued to be raised as it typically is on weekdays" since the incident on April 27.

Protesters reportedly raised the Palestinian flag again on May 7, before it was removed by university staff (archived links here and here).

AFP has debunked more misinformation around the Israel-Hamas war here

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