By Pablo Duer
Jerusalem, Jun 9 (EFE).- With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict constantly simmering and often boiling over into bloody violence, Israel has identified a new enemy in the form of the Palestinian national flag, an opponent that does have a name, political affiliation or weaponry, but which does carry enormous symbolic weight.
The first major incident took place in Jerusalem on May 13, when the Israeli police kicked and beat Palestinians waving the flag at the funeral of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank.
A few days later, an Israeli settler driving through a Palestinian village in the West Bank got out of his car and removed a Palestinian flag from a street light before continuing with his journey. Later, Palestinians hung another one but that was also taken down the following day.
These incidents sparked a weeks-long flare-up in tensions that saw protests, stun grenades and street blockades and left the village with an abundance of Palestinian flags and a small Israeli military presence.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Israeli ultra-nationalists waved their blue and white national flag while celebrating Jerusalem Day last month, shouting “death to the Arabs” in the Muslim quarter of East Jerusalem’s Old City.
A series of protests then saw Palestinian students wave flags in two of the country’s main universities to mark Nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’) Day, when Palestinians mourn the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
The Israeli response was almost immediate. On June 1, a total of 63 lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a bill banning Palestinian flags in state-funded institutions.
Waving the Palestinian flag is not yet illegal, but police often claim it “disrupts public order and obstructs peace” to confiscate it and arrest those carrying it.
“In the framework of the growing tendency in Israel to talk about nationalism and self-determination in exclusionary terms, any expression of Palestinian identity is seen as a threat and a danger,” Fady Khoury, a lawyer for the human rights NGO Adalah, tells Efe.
“In Israeli discourse, the Palestinian flag is seen as representative of certain political groups when in fact it is one of the most basic symbols of Palestinian identity,” says Khoury, referring to the bill that he considers “a new attempt to censor the expression of a unified Palestinian identity.”
Martin Sherman, the director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, explains to Efe: “there is no doubt that the Palestinian flag is a symbol of support for the enemy.”
“The flag is not just an innocent display of Palestinian patriotic sentiment. That is a lie. The only thing that unites the Palestinians is hostility towards Israel as a Jewish state, they have no other unifying element,” he says.
The Palestinians are “an implacable enemy” whose identity should not be expressed in Israel nor should their flag be flown anywhere in the country, according to Sherman. EFE