Why This Year, for Jerusalem Day, I Took Down the Israeli Flag on Our Roof

This flag will fly again. But never in sympathy with those who are destroying this land, shattering the Jewish People, and mutilating Judaism itself.

Waving flags during a march marking Jerusalem Day near Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem's Old City May 17, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

This weekend, as Jerusalem Day approached, our family started a new tradition. We took down the Israeli flag from our roof.

For me, it had much to do with a uniquely Israeli weekend in which I felt, by turns, hope for the future, enormous pride in a certain slice of the present, and, as Jerusalem Day dawned to cap the weekend, deeply rooted shame. 

Something changed in me this weekend. And I don't see it changing back any time soon.

The weekend began early, at a Thursday conference of a new movement, Two States One Homeland. For now, I will leave the outlines of the revolutionary peace plan to essays such as this, and the views of some of its proponents to articles such as this.

For now, I want to share a teaching of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, whose spirit lent both weight and wings to the idea. 

In direct contrast to the oft-chanted hardline principle that "The Land of Israel belongs to Am Israel," that is, only to the Jews, the rabbi taught that we should stop and consider that it is we – Jews and Palestinians both – who belong to this land.

It is the difference, his students learned, between rechushanut – possessiveness, a powerful focus on ownership of property - and the concept of shayechut – the quality and the feeling of belonging.

The next day, the rabbi's teaching come to life in a way I could not have anticipated. Nearly a quarter of a million people took part in Tel Aviv's annual LGBTQ Pride Parade, a gargantuan perpetual motion blowout in which Jews and Palestinians, Muslims and Christians and non-believers of all faiths, tourists from across the region and across the planet, reveled just to be in a certain place in a certain time, with each other, and, for that one day at least, to be free.

I was never more proud of Israel. Period.

There's no denying, though, that as Sunday neared, a shadow began to lengthen over the country, and over our house. We all knew what was coming. It was the March of the (Israeli) Flags, an annual, gender-segregated extreme-right, pro-occupation religious carnival of hatred, marking the anniversary of Israel's capture of Jerusalem by humiliating the city's Palestinian Muslims.

We knew what was coming from previous years, in which marchers vandalized shops in Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter, chanted "Death to Arabs" and "The (Jewish) Temple Will Be Built, the (Al Aqsa) Mosque will be Burned Down," shattered windows and door locks, and poured glue into the locks of shops forced to close for fear of further damage.

This year, with their funding sources – including Jerusalem city hall and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office – under mounting scrutiny, and a poll showing a majority of Israeli Jews opposing the march through the Muslim Quarter, especially immediately before the observance of Ramadan, organizers sought to keep criminal behavior to a minimum.

Yet the traditional spirit of the Jerusalem Day, that giddily bullying fratboy ugliness we have come to know, against the indescribable beauty of the city, still came to the fore.

In a song which the Jewish extreme right has adopted to celebrate the July, 2015 terror incineration of a Palestinian infant and his parents in the West Bank village of Duma, marchers gave voice to a perversion of the blinded Samson's prayer in Judges 16:28: "May I avenge (the loss of) my two eyes with one act of vengeance against the Palestinians – may their name be blotted out!"

The Flag Parade, and with it, Jerusalem Day, has come to symbolize the worst in us. Arrogance, xenophobia, brute dominance, racist hatred. A march of, by, and for, the worst of our worst. 

In our house, ahead of the march, we talked about what to do with the flag on our roof, the flag my wife once saved from being desecrated, the flag which we, by custom, had flown since Holocaust Remembrance Day, to honor long-held hopes and dreams of freedom in a homeland.

It wasn't a simple discussion. On the one hand, you don't want to hand the marchers a victory, and cede the flag to the worst of our worst.

On the other, to fly the flag in sync with the march, is to tell your neighbors, Arabs and Jews alike, that the march has merit.

So this year, for Jerusalem Day, we began a new tradition. 

We lower this flag in recognition of the many, many people in the city who worked very hard this year to create "A Different Day in Jerusalem," among them families on both sides bereaved by violence, working for healing and a solution to the conflict.

We lower this flag in recognition of those of the Tag Meir movement who took it upon themselves to hand out "flowers of peace" to Palestinians in the Old City.

We lower this flag in recognition of those who are working to make us proud of this place. Like the Women Wage Peace movement, which is planning a march and vigil for the fall Sukkot holiday to urge the prime minister to return to peace negotiations.

Women Wage Peace hopes to have thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women joined by women from Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan.

This flag will fly again. But never in sympathy with those who are destroying this land, shattering the Jewish People, and mutilating Judaism itself.