PATERSON — The raising of a flag at City Hall on Sunday was like any of the dozen or so similar events held in the city each year in a nod to its diversity.
Except it wasn’t.
That’s because the flag raised — for the first time in Paterson, and possibly at any city hall in the United States — was Palestinian. Symbols or assertions of Palestinian statehood are fraught with political sensitivities, and Khader Abuassab, the event’s organizer, said he received harassing phone calls before Sunday’s event.
But no problems were on display Sunday when the flag was raised in the rain before elected officials and about 150 people. People cheered, danced, shared sweets and shouted, “Long Live Palestine.”
“Palestine is our country and we are proud of that,” said Clifton resident Salwa Ramadan. “We’re happy [to be] recognized finally.”
Paterson had never held the event because no one had asked, Mayor Jeffery Jones said. The mayor read a proclamation proclaiming May 19 as Palestinian American Day in the city and honoring the group’s heritage and contributions.
He said he wasn’t concerned with potential political backlash.
“If they’re citizens of the city of Paterson, they have every right to raise the flag,” Jones said. “There’s nothing that precludes them as long as they follow the process.” Turks, Haitians, Peruvians and other groups have had had their flags raised at City Hall.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, and Assemblyman Thomas Giblin, D-Clifton, showed up — with Pascrell presenting a letter of Special Congressional Recognition and Giblin presenting an Assembly resolution marking the event.