I always have a problem if I go to a protest in the U.S. against war, injustice or workplace abuses and see some demonstrators waving the American flag. There is no doubt what that flag stands for – the American political system, with its false promises of democracy and equality and its proclivity for war. Those who hold it up even while protesting are declaring that their country is fundamentally sound and just needs a little correction, a tweak to fix whatever is the temporary problem. There is no doubt that the flag does not represent the American common people, as opposed to their government. The bearers are not disloyal.
And the Israeli flag? Forget it. Whether fluttering down 5th Ave at the Israel Day parade or plastered on Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem “legally” seized by Jewish settlers, we know it represents the Zionist state apparatus. Not one thread stands for the rights of Arab citizens of Israel or an end to military occupation.
But always, at protests against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the uncountable injustices that result, the Palestinian flag is carried high by both Palestinians and their Jewish and other allies, be it in Palestine, Israel or elsewhere.
So is there a difference when the members of a colonized or oppressed people wave their flag? The implication is that all members of the nation stand together and have the same interest in opposing the oppressor power. Sometimes it’s called the “nationalism of the oppressed”, which is supposed to be justified, as opposed to the nationalism of the oppressor. The strategy that flows from this analysis is that first there will be a struggle for national liberation and internal problems will be dealt with later.
I will never forget the initial moment of my first visit to the West Bank in 2005. Previously, I had only seen media images of death and rubble wrought by Israeli soldiers and bulldozers. But there I was in Ramallah, confronted by fancy commercial billboards, restaurants patronized by well-dressed customers, and elegant government buildings. Palestine, too, was a class society, albeit it one under a military occupation. Traveling from city center to outskirts to villages, it was clear that a similar chasm between rich and poor existed as in my own New York City, albeit with many particular differences.
Not only is Palestine a capitalist society with an especially great divide between rich and poor, but the rich are intimately tied to Israeli and international capital. As Ali Abunimah documents in The Battle for Justice in Palestine, “a small Palestinian elite has continued to enrich itself by deepening its political, economic and military ties with Israel, the U.S., often explicitly undermining efforts by Palestinian civil society to resist” (p78). PADICO, the Palestinian Development and investment Company, founded by rich Palestinians such as the Masri family and dominated by Gulf state capital, owns 78% of the Palestinian Stock Exchange. Bashar Masri, with Qatari and US support, has funded construction of the new city of Rawabi, priced for the well-to-do. Much of the construction material was bought from Israel, and nearly 500 acres of village land were involuntarily seized. Other Masri family members also have many deals with Israeli tycoons. Industrial zones run by Turkey, Japan and France, in which workers will have few rights, are in the works. In the last 30 years, credit (mostly to buy Israeli goods) has been so massively increased that half of all Palestinians are in significant debt, while unemployment is over 20%, wages are low, and one third suffer food insecurity.
Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, the West Bank has been policed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), always in close cooperation with Israel except for a few years following the second intifada. In 2007 American Lt Gen Keith Dayton was put in charge of upgrading this force, and the PA security sector today employs almost half of the 145,000 people on the PA payroll and consumes $1 billion of the PA’s $3.9 billion budget — roughly the same amount as health and education combined.  The Israelis were so confident of its ability to keep the population in line, that they warned Arafat before Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and withdrew their own forces to join in the attack. 
Israel, too, is a capitalist and highly unequal society. Eighteen ruling families have incomes equal to 77% of the national budget in 2006 and take in 32% of the profits from the 500 largest companies. The three largest banks preside over 80% of the market and take 70% of the profits. The income gaps between the 90th and the 50th percentiles, and between the 50th and the 10th are the highest in the world.  Since most job growth is in the high tech sector, inequality in education and lack of social mobility, especially for the Arab minority, insure the growth of these differences. Since 2001, tax cuts have benefited the wealthy, industry has privatized and unions have lost their clout. So dire is the situation that 80% of the population supported the massive 2011 protests against unemployment and unaffordable housing.
Thus I have my problem with flying the flag of any nation in the world today, even the Palestinian one. Is it supporting developers and profiteers, who collude with their Israeli counterparts? Is it supporting the PA and their police? Is it saying, don’t worry, we’ll deal with them later? Most importantly, is it implying that ordinary Palestinian workers, students, farmers and professionals have more in common with these exploiters and enforcers than they do with other workers in the rest of the world?
An examination of liberation movements of the last century reveals that this nationalist thinking has dominated struggle in many countries and has yet to lead to significant betterment of the lives of ordinary citizens. Instead, it has merely led to changing the ethnicity of the local exploiters, whose strings often continue to be pulled by former colonial powers. We can examine the stories of Sierra Leone, Algeria, El Salvador, Haiti, South Africa and many others to see that despite long and bloody liberation struggles, the maintenance of a capitalist system and ties to international monetary institutions has not led to significant economic betterment of the vast majority of the population. Overt apartheid-like regulations may have disappeared, but class distinctions have not. In fact, the movement for equality and better living conditions is usually dissipated, at least temporarily, by nationalist victory.
We must also consider that the workers, students and professionals of the oppressor nations are likewise suffering. In the U.S., as in the nations of Europe, in Russia and in China, millions live with poverty, racism, food insecurity, and poor health care, although the particularities may vary widely. The American capitalist system could not survive without the $600 billion it saves by paying lower wages to black workers. Europeans berate but depend on the cheap labor of their immigrant populations. China steals land from its farmers, condemns thousands to slave in internationally owned economic zones, and kills workers with pollution and shoddy construction. In Israel, inequality is the 4th highest in the world and growing.
Despite their calls for national unity, the members of various ruling classes are always able to unite when workers’ movements threaten them. As far back as the Paris Commune, when workers seized the city for ten weeks in 1871, the French army united with its former Prussian enemy to crush them. Terrified by the Bolshevik victory in the former Soviet Union, ten governments, from the US to Italy to Japan, launched an invasion in 1918, which failed to defeat the revolution (which was destroyed by its own weaknesses 70 years later). Today, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund unite and protect the world’s monied interests around the globe.
What is the alternative to waving the nationalist flag, the banner of the ruling class of whatever nation? Let us raise flags and banners of worker and student solidarity across borders, for the demands for which we fight. Let us not falsely depend on or unite with our so-called state leaders who, universally in the world today, have more in common with each other than they do with us. Let us not be bamboozled by patriotic or nationalist rhetoric; let Arab and Jewish and American workers fight together for what we need. The One State Movement for historic Palestine could be a huge step in this direction, but it must do more to consider the political and economic nature of the society it seeks to create. Let us be part of an international movement for an anti-racist, non-capitalist world.
1. Ali Abuminah, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Haymarket Books, Chicago, Il,,2014, pp. 76-115
2. Ehab Zahriiiyah, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/12/12/will-the-palestinianauthorityendsecuritycoordinationwithisrael.html (accessed 2/15/15)
3. Max Blumenthal, Goliath, Nation Books, New York, NY, 2013, p. 5
4. Assaf Adiv, www.challenge-mag.com/en/article__187/post zionist israel the rules have changed (accessed 2//13/15)
5. Meirav Ariosoroff, Israel’s Middle Class Really Is Disappearing, www.haaretz.com/business/business-opinion/.premium-1.559431. (accessed 2/13/15)
6. Moti Bassok, www.haaretz.com/business/study-income-inequality-growing-faster-in-israel-than-in-other-developed-nations-1.421277, (accessed 2/13/15)
7. Bernie Bellan, www.cfhu.org/news/jewish-post-news-article-income-inequality-among-israelis-growing-problem, (accessed 2/13/15)