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Why Arab citizens waved Palestinian flags in central Tel Aviv

Because two peoples live here, side by side, and the Israeli government is doing its best to erase the rights and history of only one of them.

A Palestinian citizen of Israel waves a Palestinian flag during a protest against the Jewish Nation-State Law, central Tel Aviv, August 12, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian citizen of Israel waves a Palestinian flag during a protest against the Jewish Nation-State Law, central Tel Aviv, August 12, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Tens of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis protested and marched against the Jewish Nation-State Law Saturday night, demanding full civil equality for all residents of this land. It was a spectacular and rare showing, yet most of Israel’s top politicians (including on the Left) and media outlets were concerned with one thing only: Palestinian flags flown in Rabin Square.

Let’s start with the facts: Saturday night’s protest was organized by the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, and was joined by dozens of political parties, movements, and civil society organizations. At first the demonstration was to be held without flags of any kind, and out of the 30,000 demonstrators who converged on the square, the vast majority did not bring or raise flags. A few dozen protesters decided to bring Palestinian flags, as well as a few Israeli ones. At first, the organizers asked everyone to lower them, yet they gave up rather quickly, and the flags — both kinds — were flown throughout the entire demonstration,.

Anyone who has ever been to a protest knows that this is how things go. Demonstrations are not a sterile zone; people bring a variety of signs and flags that are not necessarily agreed upon ahead of time with the organizers.

Yet the organizers did not renounce the Palestinian flags, and rightly so. Higher Arab Monitoring Committee Chairman Muhammad Barakeh opened his speech by addressing the headlines that had already appeared on various Israeli news sites, stating unequivocally that the Palestinian flag represents an oppressed minority, and that everyone has the right to raise it.



So why did they bring Palestinian flags to Tel Aviv?

For a few reasons. First of all, because they are Palestinian. There live two large nations in this country, alongside a number of other smaller groups. Twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Arab, those who are often called “Israeli Arabs,” who are Palestinian — part of the same nation that lives in the occupied territories and refugee camps in the diaspora. They are members of the same families divided by borders, they share the same culture, the same language, the same customs — and the same flag. Among them are those who identify more strongly with their Israeli citizenship, as well as those who identify with Palestinian nationalism.

The second reason is the Jewish Nation-State Law. The law seeks to legitimize one out of all the different identities of all people who live in this country. Only Jews have a right to self-determination in Israel. The protest was a reminder that there is at least one more nation here, and it refuses to be silent. It won’t give up on its right to equality.

The third reason is that raising the flag poses a direct challenge and an opportunity to educate our own camp. Saturday’s protest was an event based on unity and partnership — of building a wider opposition to the government and the Jewish Nation-State Law. Not because all those in the camp, from Balad to members of the Labor Party, agree with one another, but because everyone agrees on a basic commitment to equality as a basic value in our society. In this situation, when the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee does something out of the ordinary and brings in thousands of Palestinians by bus and car to the heart of the White City, the demonstrators wanted to make sure that they were not erased, that their identity in this wider democratic camp in-the-making was not being ignored.

Palestinian citizens take part in a protest against the Jewish Nation-State Law, central Tel Aviv, August 12, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian citizens take part in a protest against the Jewish Nation-State Law, central Tel Aviv, August 12, 2018. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

From a few conversations with protesters, it worked. It was the first time that many Jewish activists, who had never before taken part in a demonstration with so many Palestinians, encountered Palestinian flags and slogans in Arabic. For them, it was political education, forcing them out of their comfort zone to deal with the real meaning of Jewish-Arab partnership. Those with whom I spoke were not afraid. They stayed, they learned.

The ban on Palestinian flags was annulled in the early 90s. The police will sometimes try to prevent demonstrators from waving them inside Israel — and the army often confiscates them in the West Bank — whether through arrests or by laying out conditions for receiving a permit to demonstrate. In 2009, I was part of a petition to Israel’s High Court of Justice to allow left-wing activists wave Palestinian flags during an anti-war protest. The police eventually let us demonstrate with the flags.

So yes, waving a Palestinian flag in Tel Aviv is legal, legitimate, and logical when Jews and Arabs demonstrate together against the Jewish Nation-State Law, and in support of equality. And if Israeli politicians — from the left to the right — don’t like it, it’s a good thing that we are joining forces to replace them.

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    1. Cyndi

      Why shouldn’t they? Why do Jews wave Israeli flags all over the world without accusations of disloyalty to their home country?

      Reply to Comment
      • Reality Check

        Because they are calling for a Palestinian State to replace Israel. When the Druze flag was flown there no complaints because they are loyal citizens. Vive la differance.

        Reply to Comment
        • Unimpressed realist

          ‘loyal citizens’ how despotic of you… You have never met a Druze in your life. They are as loyal as Palestinian citizens, they are simply a smaller demograghic than palestinians so you dont ever hear their political views. If they could seek self determination they would do it in a heart beat. They dont like forced conscription and they have never been respected by the Israeli govt and are treated like 2nd class non-citizens.

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          What your nation state law did is show the Druze and the Palestinians and the whole world the real deal, the true Israel without the pretensions, that the way you treat your “loyal citizens” is to condescend to them and betray them and treat them with the casual neglect of the overlord–and not just with one law but with every routinely discriminatory act for years and years. The nation state law only codified and said explicitly what was already known practice. So it was adding insult to injury.

          We had a religious nationalist guy here, Itshak Gordin Halevy, who liked to tell us how wonderful and fair it all is, what’s the problem, just look at “our Druze,” everything is fine, everybody is content, “as long as the foreigners respect our laws and our sovereignty.” Well, the episode with the nation state law and the Druze blows the cover off of everything Halevy has ever said here.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Unimpressed realist

      There is no reason why Palestinians and Jewish Israelis cannot fly their own flags standing together. A new flag that represents both them and Druz and other peoples of the Holy land – with the consent of all of them – will not nullify any of their flags. You can fly your state/district flag beside the US flag in America after all, so I don’t see why people can’t in a unified land of peoples.

      It’s all about consent. That’s what all of this boils down to. Consent and representation. Not imposing one or the other over peoples.

      A new anthem, a constitution, bill of rights, what a great opportunity all of this can become. Its a chance at a renewal or revival or enlightenment. Can you imagine an egalitarian government forming? Where women of all backgrounds can be apart of authoring something for the 21rst century? How many countries can even do that anymore?

      There is so much that can happen with unification, and not a drop of blood is needed. The hardliners whether Palestinian or Israeli will fight it, and each other; but if those of us with this vision filter out this blood soaked static, even while we die because of them… it will happen.

      Boycotts still need to happen, divesting from the Israeli government still needs to happen, the occupation and the apartheid still need to be fought back. Warcrimes trials need to be punished. Natanyahu and his govt should answer for their part and visa versa with Hamas etc. But this should be the answer to all those who say “Okay you get rid of this govt, the occupation and apartheid…What comes after Natanyahu?” Unification. One state for ALL peoples.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Lewis from Afula

      The PLO flag wavers are essentially traiterous 5th columnists.
      If i had my way, they would be sent to Gaza on a one way ticket basis. Their homes would be confiscated by the state.

      Reply to Comment
      • Unimpressed realist

        You seem stable…

        Reply to Comment