Yesterday, tens of thousands protested Israel’s ‘Nation-State’ law in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, and the rare sight was the many Palestinian flags being waved.
“The flag of the state is white, two blue stripes near the edges, and a blue Star of David in the center”.
The description of the flag of Israel is not a mere pedantic notation. It is part of the exclusion of any Palestinian identity within ‘Eretz Israel’ (‘Land of Israel’, referring to the biblical ‘promised land’). The law literally opens with this notion, in its Hebrew version, which I have translated:
“Eretz Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people…”
In the official English translation, it just starts with ‘Israel’, not even the ‘Land of Israel’ – so it’s not as obvious for the non-Hebrew speakers. For the Hebrew speakers, it’s understood as alluding to ‘Greater Israel’, that is the whole of historical Palestine.
So the law is an attempt to erase Palestinian identity altogether, and to pave a way for the overtaking and Judaization of the whole of historical Palestine, through “Jewish settlement”, which the state views “as a national value” so that it “will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development”.
The organizers of yesterday’s demonstration were mostly from what is generally regarded as the ‘Arab sector’ in Israel, although there was participation of some from the Zionist left parties and organizations such as Meretz and Peace Now. The organizers had asked the participants to avoid, in advance, waving Palestinian flags, but they were waved anyway. A main organizer, Former lawmaker Mohammad Barakeh (a longtime leader of the left-wing Hadash party who currently heads the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee) said that he “asked the public not to bring [Palestinian] flags, but I can’t control what people do.”
Barakeh told the crowd during a speech that the demonstrators were all at the square to “erase this abomination and remove the stain made by Netanyahu and his government called the nation-state law.” He called the Palestinian flag the “flag of the oppressed Palestinian people, the flag they are trying to eradicate from history via the nation-state law.” Some Israeli-Palestinians were dismayed by the call not to bring flags. Ynet cited Maher Masarwa, a Wadi Ara resident, claimed that prohibiting the flag is unlawful. “I would have liked to join the protest but after hearing that Palestinian flags will not be allowed, I decided against it. There is no law in this country that bans the waving of our flags. No one should have the authority to make a decision such as this one,” he said. It is notable, that in last week’s demonstration headed by Druze citizens of Israel, at the same spot, many Druze flags were waved alongside Israeli flags. Apparently, the Druze sense of identity has not conflicted so strongly with the Israeli sense of nationality.
All this, flag or no flag, was going way too far for Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay, head of the Zionist Union, who said that while he backed efforts to amend the nation-state law, he would not attend the protest since he said it would include Palestinian nationalist elements. “I can’t go to a protest where they are calling for the right of return,” he said. “I can go to a protest that calls for equal rights,” he added.
Gabbay’s comment shows exactly where the mainstream Zionist left draws the line. Equality is fine, as long as you preserve the results of ethnic cleansing and exclude ethnically cleansed Palestinians from these rights. All are equal, but some are more equal than others.
The waving of Palestinian flags was great for Netanyahu. He tweeted a video of protesters waving the Palestinian flag, and commented: “There is no better testament to the need for the nation-state law. We will continue waving the Israeli flag and singing Hatikva with great pride” (referring to the Israeli national anthem, which refers exclusively to the ‘Jewish nation’, which is also cemented in the NSJP law).
אין עדות טובה יותר לנחיצותו של חוק הלאום. אנו נמשיך להניף את דגל ישראל בגאון ולשיר את התקווה בגאווה גדולה 🇮🇱🇮🇱🇮🇱 pic.twitter.com/thVUDJ4PDh
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) August 11, 2018
What we are seeing is a backfiring of this NJSP exclusivity, and a surge in identification of Israeli Palestinian citizens with the national definition of ‘Palestinian’. Israel, of course, wishes to preserve them as mere ‘Arabs’, but about two-thirds of them today identify as ‘Palestinian’ in some way, as can be seen in a poll conducted by Prof. Sami Smooha of Haifa University (cited in Haaretz 2014): 22% of “Israeli Arabs” call themselves Arab-Palestinians with no Israeli association at all. Another 45% call themselves Palestinian-Israelis. Only 32% define themselves as what the Jewish majority likes to call them – Israeli Arabs. In other words, two out of three Palestinians who are Israeli citizens consider themselves Palestinians.
The more mainstream Palestinian-Israeli politicians still use the term “Arabs”, but expressed great outrage at the law:
Chairman of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, said, “Tens of thousands of Arabs and Jews are moving in large quantities on buses to Tel Aviv, because today we insist on delivering a clear message – a democratic state must be for all citizens.”
Member of Knesset Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said, “This damned law succeeded in uniting the Arab public and restore the spirit of the public struggle of Arab citizens together with Jewish democratic forces.”
Israeli journalist Orly Noy has shared her thoughts on the flag issue in advance of the demonstration (on Facebook , thanks to Sol Salbe for translating):
“[T]he purpose of the demonstration is to present the other entity, which is defending itself, which is fighting for its very existence against attempts at erasure and exclusion, and one of the ways in which that is done is through symbols. And therefore, the Palestinian flag is not only legitimate, but is requisite and necessary in this demonstration […] Those for whom a Palestinian flag makes them uncomfortable, should ask themselves why they demand that the Palestinians hide it.”
So, the increasingly blatant and outspoken Israeli-Jewish-exclusivity is pushing Palestinians everywhere to demand a place, a voice, a representation – and not least an identity, one which is being crushed and silenced. Because Netanyahu can sing Hatikva and wave the Israeli flag all he wants, but Palestinians are not disappearing.
A central reading in the Jewish Passover is from Exodus 1:12, about the oppressed Israelites in Egypt: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.”
History repeats itself. But as Hegel said, “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”