The Palestinian flag is our symbol of resistance to occupation and land theft. Only once we remedy the injustices of the past will we be able to stop waving it.
Last week the joint Arab-Jewish party Hadash and Zionist leftist party Meretz held a joint protest in Tel Aviv against the appointment of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and the growing extremism of the Netanyahu government. During the demonstration Meretz activists demanded that Palestinian demonstrators refrain from waving their national flag, a move that angered many Palestinian activists.
The controversy over the two flags shows, once again, that the Zionist Left can be many things — but left wing it is not. The protest is an excellent opportunity to use the context of flag-waving in order to explain the way in which the Zionist Left understands its beloved concept of “coexistence,” and to illuminate just why it is not built for any kind of coexistence — except for with itself.
A week ago I sat with with an Israeli friend who is also a well known Israeli public figure for a conversation over beer in Jaffa. The conversation began with her wanting to know why I detest the concept of coexistence. Despite me going on at length with my often tedious explanations, I could tell she was really listening.
Later on, and thanks to a few more beers, the conversation turned to topics that just about any young, secular person could talk about. Then, out of nowhere, my friend looks at me with a spark in her eye and says: “All of a sudden I really get it. I still remember something you said once that has stayed with me: ‘On the day that Palestine is liberated and we are all free, I will be the first one to toss the Palestinian flag.’ Now I really understand. You are exactly like me, only with a burden weighing on your shoulders and an endless pain in your heart.”
She got it. I really do not know what I said to make her understand that our nationalism is a burden that we, as occupied people, must carry with us. That we do not do it out of choice, but rather as part of our historical, moral, and national duty as an occupied people. All of a sudden she understood that despite my “Palestinian militancy,” we want the same things out of life: the same goals, loves, dreams, and even the same values.
“You know,” I told her, “I am so happy you understand. Remember when we spoke earlier about why ‘coexistence’ is usually just a boring cliche? Now I can start talking with you about how to reach real ‘coexistence.'”
They like their Arabs tokenized
You may have guessed it, but my friend is certainly not Meretz MK Zehava Galon. In truth, she doesn’t even belong to Meretz or to the same group of people that cannot bear to see a Palestinian wave his flag. My friend no longer belongs to the group of people who call us “Israeli Arabs” in order to impose an identity on us. She is not among those who are unable to see that a Palestinian flag represents opposition to occupation, oppression, and dispossession. She does not insist on comparing it to an Israeli flag in an absurd attempt to create symmetry between the two — all while casually ignoring the fact that the Israeli flag represents everything that is considered evil among the occupied.
Real “coexistence” cannot exist with these kinds of people. Universal leftist principles have never tried to create symmetry between the occupier and the occupied. And yet here we see people who are interested in reaching a kind of amorphous “coexistence” that matches their deepest desires, all while projecting their twisted morality onto Palestinians.
We cannot talk about living together without recognizing the injustices of the past, which still manage our lives in one way or another. And this despite the fact that we feel the need for a phony coexistence imposed on us — the poorest citizens in Israel — by the Israeli public. We are willing to accept every crumb offered up by the Israeli public, everything it sends our way in exchange for our famous hospitality.
The Israeli public, especially the Zionist and Ashkenazi public, knows this fact full well, and is willing to exploit our daily existential struggles for its own benefit. It wants its Arabs to look like it: secular and less militant about everything having to do with their land, exploitation, and oppression. This is a relationship of the master and his servant — a status quo that has existed for a long time, which the Ashkenazi Left is interested in maintaining. The existing inequality is, in fact, Zionist coexistence. It is the equivalence and symmetry between the Palestinian flag and the Israeli one.
Unfortunately, Palestinians fall into this trap far too often, accepting the comfort of subservience far too easily. The Palestinians who brought their flags to Saturday’s protests should not have taken them down simply because they were asked to. In doing so they accepted the stipulations set forth by the lords of the land, who use their willingness to take down Israeli flags as political deception, as if this isn’t really the state of the Jews, where we are allowed to act only in accordance with the overlords. When the Palestinians agreed to take down the flag, they showed the Zionists that they are submissive, and that they recognize their inferior status.
Herein lies the danger. Morally speaking, and certainly by any modicum of justice, the Palestinians are morally superior in this situation, as a nation under occupation for 68 years. They have been wronged. They are the ones who deserve redress, they are the ones whom the global left listens to and supports. Palestinians must not forget this. On the contrary, we must be ready to bear the burden and wave our flag — not to impose our truth on the other side — but for ourselves, for future generations.
And the Israelis? Any of them who want to join the Palestinians, be they Mizrahi or Ashkenazi, will be part of building real “coexistence.” And the rest? If you ask us, they can live among themselves, or with “Israeli Arabs” over a plate of hummus, with a clear preference for places where Israeli flags are hung, so that the servants can feed their families and live in “dignity.”
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.