Israeli nationalists fight against the Palestinian flag



JERUSALEM (AP) — It’s not a bomb, gun or rocket. The latest threat identified by Israel is the Palestinian flag.

The past few weeks have seen a nationalist fury over the red, white, green and black flag waving by Palestinians in Israel and in Israel’s annexed East Jerusalem.

Yet the clatter around the flag tells a larger story about dwindling hopes for peace with the Palestinians and the stature of the one-fifth of Israelis who are Palestinians. They have long been considered a fifth column because of their solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

Palestinian citizens of Israel see the campaign against the flag as another affront to their national identity and their rights as a minority in the majority Jewish state.

“The Palestinian flag reminds Israelis that there is another nation here and some people don’t want to see another nation here,” said Jafar Farah, who heads Mossawa, an advocacy group promoting greater rights for Palestinians. Palestinian citizens of Israel.

In recent weeks, the Israeli authorities have done everything possible to challenge the hoisting of the Palestinian flag. Police at a funeral in East Jerusalem last month for prominent Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh tore down Palestinian flags from mourners, reportedly following an order from a leader of the district police to ensure that the Palestinian colors do not fly at the politically charged event.

Two Israeli universities have come under fire from nationalists for allowing Palestinian flags to be waved at campus events. Israel Katz, a senior opposition lawmaker, urged Palestinian-Israeli students waving flags to remember the war that led to the establishment of Israel in 1948, saying Jews “knew how to protect themselves and protect the concept of the Jewish state”.

A group promoting coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis hoisted the Palestinian flag alongside the Israeli flag on a skyscraper outside Tel Aviv, only for authorities to remove the Palestinian flag hours later.

These events culminated in a push by opposition lawmakers to ban the waving of the Palestinian flag in institutions that receive state funding, including universities and hospitals. The bill passed its first reading overwhelmingly on Wednesday 63-16, although several ruling coalition parties were absent and the coalition may seek to block the bill from moving forward.

“In the State of Israel, there is room for a flag: the Israeli flag, this flag,” Eli Cohen, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, said from the dais of the Israeli parliament. the Knesset, pointing to an Israeli flag hanging behind him. “It’s the only flag there will be here,” he said to applause from some lawmakers.

According to Adalah, a Palestinian Israeli rights group, waving the flag is not a crime under Israeli law. A police order grants officers the right to confiscate a flag if “it causes a disturbance of public order or a breach of the peace”.

Palestinian citizens of Israel make up 20% of the population and have had a turbulent relationship with the state since its inception in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to flee during the events surrounding the creation of the state.

Those who remained became citizens, but have long been viewed with suspicion by some Israelis because of their ties to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the war. Middle East of 1967. That sentiment deepened last year when mob violence erupted in mixed Jewish-Arab towns, with looting and attacks scarring residents on both sides.

Palestinian citizens have carved out a place for themselves in Israeli society, reaching the highest echelons in various fields, including health, education and public service. An Arab Islamist party for the first time in history is now part of a ruling coalition. But Palestinians in Israel are generally poorer and less educated than Jewish Israelis, and they have long suffered from discrimination in housing, government funding and public works.

While recent governments have made efforts to bridge this socio-economic gap, Palestinian nationalist rights have slowly eroded over the years, especially as Israeli nationalist sentiment has grown.

“It is our right to raise our Palestinian flag,” said Alin Nasra, activist and student at Tel Aviv University. “It’s something that sets us apart as a minority inside Israel.”

Yitzhak Reiter, president of Israel’s Association for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, said the outcry over the flag was part of the feeling among nationalists and some mainstream Israelis that they were “losing the state” to Palestinian nationalism within Israel’s borders.

He cited previous laws that prohibit municipalities or institutions from marking Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning or Jewish state law that attempted to reinforce Israel’s character as a Jewish state but which Palestinian citizens saw as a further degradation of their status and a blow to their national identity. Israel’s national symbols – a biblical candelabrum, the Star of David on its flag – do not include Palestinian or Arab emblems, and the Israeli anthem speaks of the yearning of the Jewish soul.

The flag, Reiter said, “symbolizes the enemy, but waving the flag, for those who oppose it, is detrimental to Israeli sovereignty.”

Israel once viewed the Palestinian flag as that of a militant group, no different from the Palestinian Hamas or the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah. But after Israel and the Palestinians signed a series of interim peace agreements known as the Oslo Accords, the flag was recognized as that of the Palestinian Authority.

The left-leaning Haaretz daily slammed the bill against the flag, saying Israel has an ‘obsession’ with it because it reminds the country of the ‘sin of occupying’ the land Palestinians want for a future state. .

With the peace talks a distant memory and the occupation dragging on, the battle for the flag shows how far the Palestinian state is from reality, with the nationalist narrative in Israel becoming increasingly mainstream.

Ronni Shaked, of Jerusalem’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, said he remembered a time when politicians wore pins displaying both the Israeli and Palestinian flags and that even hawkish former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the current leader of the opposition and Israel’s longest-serving leader, had a Palestinian flag hanging behind him at events with Palestinian leaders when relations between the parties were less icy.

“If we are afraid of the Palestinian flag,” he said, “it means we are afraid of making peace with the Palestinians.”

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