Fri 02 Jun 2023 10:27 am - Jerusalem Time

Hold the flag

At the weekly Saturday night demonstration in Jerusalem where I stand with Gush Neged HaKebush (Bloc Against the Occupation) holding a sign saying: "No democracy with occupation" we found ourselves under siege by a small group of Israeli police. Amid more than 10,000 demonstrators, a group of about 200 Israeli Jews surrounded a large banner that read: "First they took the Palestinian flag, I did not speak." In the center of the group were several people holding black, white, green and red Palestinian flags. Israeli police in uniform and unofficially tried to break down the human wall protecting the flags in order to confiscate them. In an instant, I was pulled back in time to summers as a teenager at Zionist summer camp in Tel Yehuda in upstate New York. We played a game when counselors woke us up in the middle of the night, we quickly and quietly got dressed and got out of bed. We huddled together and were told in a whisper that our kibbutz, circa 1947, was surrounded by British soldiers and that we had to protect our flag! What a night of intrigue and excitement. We, the youth of the Zionist Camp, were on our way to save the flag of the Jewish people so that the Jewish state would be born.

Palestinian flags were flown by protesters at the weekly protests in Tel Aviv, but this was the first time in 20 weeks that we had seen Palestinian flags at the Jerusalem demonstration. The background was an attempt by the Israeli government to pass yet another right-wing law that would ban the waving of Palestinian flags on Israeli campuses. The bill was introduced by far-right MK Otzma Yehudit Limor Son Har Melek, and would ban the waving of Palestinian flags on university campuses. According to the draft law, students caught violating the ban will be suspended for 30 days for the first violation, after which subsequent violations will be banned for five years from either obtaining a degree in Israel or obtaining a recognized foreign degree. For us at the demonstration, protecting the Palestinian flag was tantamount to protecting our democracy and our democratic right to freedom of expression. It is also a symbol of solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom and liberation from our brutal and illegal occupation.

The Palestinian flag in Israel was illegal throughout the first intifada. Israeli soldiers would often stop Palestinian youths and order them to climb electricity poles in order to remove the Palestinian flags hanging there by youths protesting against the occupation. Israeli soldiers forced men of all ages to scrub walls or paint over the Palestinian flags that adorned the walls of homes and shops across the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is difficult for me to imagine a less beneficial duty for a soldier in the National Defense Force. When the flags were erased, many more would appear within hours in the same places. It was such a useless exercise. The same things again continue now.

On November 29, 1989, during the first year of the first intifada, a small group of the "De-Kibush Enough for the Occupation" movement held a demonstration (which no one saw) in front of the "Kibush" buildings. National institutions The Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund (national institutions before the establishment of the state) at the intersection of King George Street and the Keren Cayenne in Jerusalem. We wanted to celebrate the day the United Nations voted to divide Palestine into two states - a Jewish state (Israel) and an Arab state (Palestine). At that time, I sincerely believed that November 29 should be designated as a national holiday in Israel, because it is the day when the State of Israel was officially given a birth certificate.We held hand-drawn banners with the motto of two states, Israel and Palestine for two peoples, and drew two flags - an Israeli flag and a Palestinian flag.After About fifteen minutes after we started, a police van arrived at the scene. Two policemen got off and signaled us one by one until we got eight "into the van." They took us to the Russian Compound Police Department where we spent most of the night. Finally before morning they were fired We were released on our own bond after we signed some papers. It was the first time I had been arrested. Several weeks later, I received a privately delivered notice that I was accused of identifying membership in a terrorist organization. From that time on, for many years, I wore A button on a collar with the two flags that I made in a factory in Bethlehem. I will give it to anyone who wants to wear it.

On September 13, 1993, while the Oslo Declaration of Principles was being signed on the White House lawn with the famous handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, thousands of Palestinians marched out of Orient House (the equivalent of Palestinian national institutions in Jerusalem) led by Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini carrying flags. Palestinians, olive branches and flowers that were distributed to the Israelis they met along the way of their march for peace along the border between West and East Jerusalem. With the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian flag was legalized in Israel. Many Israeli journalists then correctly referred to the flag as the Palestinian flag and not the PLO flag as almost every Israeli journalist calls it today. Hundreds of official meetings have subsequently taken place between Israeli and Palestinian ministers, security personnel, parliamentarians, and even the Israeli prime minister and the president of the Palestinian Authority. In most of these encounters, the Israeli and Palestinian flags appeared side by side, equal in status, symbolizing the hope and dream of peace. Even Benjamin Netanyahu has been photographed on more than one occasion, even at the official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, with the flags of Israel and Palestine behind the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. (Was it difficult to see Netanyahu with a Palestinian flag or for Yasser Arafat to come to Balfour Street - the name of the British man who offered Palestine to the Jewish people as a Jewish national home?).

We have gone a long way from those times when Israeli leaders could stand with a Palestinian flag next to an Israeli flag. Today in the year 2023, there may be little feasibility for a two-state solution, and yet the Palestinian people exist on this land and in the diaspora. Their numbers are approximately equal to the number of Israeli Jews on this land and Jews in the Jewish Diaspora. These millions of Palestinians in Palestine, Israel and around the world carry their flag. They have their own identity, their pride, their narrative, and their hopes for a future of equality, liberation, and independence. The violent actions of the police at an Israeli demonstration for democracy in an attempt to confiscate Palestinian flags will not erase the Palestinian identity of these millions of people. These people will remain our neighbors as long as the State of Israel exists. I can assure the Israeli government and police that the more they try to confiscate Palestinian flags, the more they will appear. Israeli settlers have returned to futile efforts to remove Palestinian flags from the lands they occupy. They cannot succeed. The Palestinians will continue to proudly fly their flag. And now Israeli Jews who fully understand the true meaning of democracy will proudly raise the Palestinian flag. Some will wave both flags, others only the Palestinian flag. Yes, this is a provocation, but it is much less about “associating with a terrorist organization” or with the enemy, and much more about protecting our democratic rights for free expression, and even more about pressing for recognition that there can really be no democracy with occupation .


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