There’s something disproportionate and inexplicable about the belligerent threats of a nakba – that is, massacres and expulsions, no more and no less – in reaction to the waving of the Palestinian flag during demonstrations at Israeli universities. What was it that made Knesset members so angry? What is so scary about a flag being waved? Why do they see in the flag of one people a threat to themselves and their own people? Why do they feel an existential angst, or at the very least, create and inflame this anxiety?
Perhaps the flag is not in fact so frightening, and this is just wild incitement spread by people who know there’s no reason for fear or concern. But if this fear does exist (and it’s not inconceivable that it does), then it exists mainly in the hearts of those who believe that a continued Jewish existence in Israel depends on the disappearance and destruction of the Palestinian people – or in other words, among those who want to replace the Palestinian people rather than living alongside it.
People who think a Palestinian existence alongside a Jewish one in Palestine/Israel is possible and who are interested in an egalitarian, noncolonialist Jewish nationhood should not be frightened by the waving of a Palestinian flag. They know that the way to overcome this fear is through justice for the Palestinian people, not its annihilation. The very presence of another nation and its symbols is a threat only to those who want to base their own existence on denying the existence of others.
Understanding the reasons why this flag is being waved is the beginning of the road toward coping with the fear. Therefore, let’s consider the meaning of this action as it should be understood.
First, this isn’t the flag of the PLO, but rather the flag of an entire nation – the flag of the Palestinian people in its entirety. This is a people that was expelled from its homeland, with the result that a great many of its members became refugees. And of those who remained in Palestine, some live under the occupation while others became citizens of a state that explicitly says it is not their state and that enacts laws that guarantee their inferiority. This is the flag of a people with which Israel is not willing to negotiate and whose right to self-determination Israel is not willing to recognize officially. It is the flag of a people that is still under occupation – among the last peoples in the world to remain in this situation. And Israel continues to dispossess it of the last remnants of its land, to demolish its homes and to settle among it on a daily basis, so that its life has become intolerable.
Anyone who has a heart and who is guided by the search for justice should have no problem with the flag of the occupied, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the refugees.
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It is also important to recall a few basic facts. Those whose land was pulled out from under their feet, those who are in danger of being annihilated, are the Palestinians, not the Jews in Israel. Those who have a state and a half for themselves are the Jews in Israel, while those who have less than half a state are the Palestinians. Those who have a present and a future are the Jews in Israel, while those who have a past but no present, no future and no hope are the Palestinians.
Waving the Palestinian flag is an act of protest against this situation, protest against the continuing dispossession, occupation, expulsion and lack of hope. And that is how it ought to be understood – as a protest against the erasure of Palestinian existence and the ongoing threat to the Palestinians’ future, not as a threat against anyone else. It’s a symbolic act of self-defense in a world that denies the existence of the Palestinian problem and the Palestinian people, a world in which the Palestinian people has become an unnecessary nation on the face of the earth.
The ease with which threats of a new Nakba were tossed around proves all of the above. It proves just how fragile, threatened and subject to constant danger Palestinian existence is.
Raef Zreik hold a doctorate from Harvard Law School. He teaches jurisprudence at Israel’s Ono Academic College and is a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.