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Woman stopped from waving Palestinian flag at Israeli soccer match

Bobby Blanchar, Houston Chronicle
Updated 8:05 pm, Wednesday, July 2, 2014

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  • Caption: Palestinian-American Buthayna Hammad, 30, was attending the Honduras vs. Israel game in June at BBVA Compass Stadium with her boyfriend and his family when security officials and police officers allegedly forbid her from waving the Palestinian flag.  Credit: Buthayna Hammad Photo: Buthayna Hammad, Special To The Chronicle / special to the Chronicle

    Caption: Palestinian-American Buthayna Hammad, 30, was attending the Honduras vs. Israel game in June at BBVA Compass Stadium with her boyfriend and his family when security officials and police officers allegedly forbid her from waving the Palestinian flag. Credit: Buthayna Hammad

    Photo: Buthayna Hammad, Special To The Chronicle

 

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The Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the company that provides security at Houston Dynamo games and four police officers for preventing a woman from waving her Palestinian flag at an international soccer game last month.

Palestinian-American Buthayna Hammad, 30, was attending the Honduras vs. Israel game June 1 at BBVA Compass Stadium with her boyfriend's family when she said stadium security officers and four Houston police officers removed her from her seat and told her she could not continue to wave her nation's flag. Amin Alehashem, an attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, said those actions were discriminatory and violated Hammad's civil rights. He said the goal of the lawsuit is to force the stadium to change its policy and procedure.

"They told me, 'I'm sorry, but you cannot carry that flag, it implies a racial slur,'" Hammad said. "I was devastated. That's never been said to me before."

Nathan Buchanan, BBVA Compass Stadium security manager, pulled her out of her seat to ask about the flag, according to the lawsuit.

"He had ample opportunity to say anything else, but to say my national flag was a racial slur? I was shocked," Hammad said. "I didn't know where to go from there."

A 'security' concern

She said police officers also told her the flag proposed a "security" concern. Houston police spokesman Victor Senties deferred comment to the city attorney's office, which deferred comment to the mayor's office. Janice Evans, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office, declined to comment.

Though security officers initially asked her to hand over the flag, Hammad said they eventually let her return to her seat with the flag if she agreed not to wave it. Doug Hall, the stadium's general manager, disputed Hammad's version of events in a statement.

"While Ms. Hammad was asked to leave her seat area for a brief period (that lasted no more than 10 minutes) to discuss the proper display of her flag so as not to disturb other guests, she was allowed to return to her seat and display her Palestinian flag for the rest of the event, which included the entire second half of the Israel-Honduras match," Hall said.

Hall said visitors to the stadium are allowed to display flags, banners and other signage as long as they do not disturb spectators.

"Any statement to the contrary by any stadium employee, or any disparagement of the Palestinian flag, certainly does not represent the views of stadium management," Hall said.

Hammad, a lifelong soccer fan and Houston resident, said it is common for spectators to display flags of their country's origin at the game. She said she was the only person she saw carrying a Palestinian flag that day, but she observed others with flags that weren't Honduran or Israeli. Hammad said she has brought the Palestinian flag to prior events at the stadium without any problems.

She said while she was sitting next to Israeli fans at the recent game, she did not instigate them and was not causing any security issues. "I had no conflict with anyone in the stadium," Hammad said. "No exchange of words, nothing. Not even dirty looks."

'Doesn't happen again'

Alehashem, Hammad's attorney, said he has filed an open records request for the name of the four Houston police officers involved in the incident.

"They said the security there and the HPD there were dealing with a security threat, but according to facts that we see so far, there was no sort of commotion or any sort of argument or any sort of provocation going on at all," Alehashem said.

Hammad said she would continue to bring her Palestinian flag to future soccer games.

"That's part of the impetus of this lawsuit, we want to make sure that the next time she comes, this doesn't happen again," Alehashem said. "That's really the driving force behind this lawsuit."