Gideon Levy: Will I Hang the Flag?

By Gideon Levy

There is a flagholder installed in my garden. The previous residents used it to fly the flag of their favorite soccer team. Since they left, the holder has remained orphaned. During my childhood, there was no question about it: My parents would take the national flag out of the cupboard each year, proudly display it on the balcony, and it would drown in the street’s sea of blue and white. I would look with excitement at our decorated balcony: I was proud of the flag.

That was a long time ago. During my first trip overseas, in a youth delegation to Europe, two years after the Six-Day War, we flew the state flag on the front of the bus in which we were traveling, between France and Italy. Back then they applauded us. How proud we were to be Israelis. In recent years, the flagpole at my house stands bare.

I clearly remember when I stopped hanging the flag. It was after I saw the settlers dashing through Palestinian villages, fearsome flags waving from their cars to confront and provoke the residents of the land they had invaded. I said to myself that a flag intended for provocation and confrontation is not my flag. I later saw the flag as a land marker, establishing ownership that is not ours. In every settlement and outpost they hung the flag that was my flag as well to "establish facts on the ground."

How can I hang at my home the same flag that flies over the homes of the Jewish settlement in the heart of Hebron, which has expelled nearly 20,000 residents from their homes? How can I hang the flag that flies on the homes of Yitzhar and Itamar, and at dozens of checkpoints designed to choke the lives of our neighbors? How can I hang the flag that flies on the jeeps that burst forth in the dead of night and spread terror in the hearts of little children? The flag became increasingly distant from me; the national flag became the flag of extreme nationalism.

It is not easy to become alienated from a flag that once was yours. It is much easier to love it, to curl up in it, to be proud of it. The U.S. is drowning in a sea of flags; every far-flung car lot is adorned with flags of stars and stripes. Canadian, Swiss and Japanese backpackers tend to attach their national flags to their backpacks – these flags look so innocent. This is not the case with my flag, which has long ceased to denote innocence. Since it has become the flag of the occupation, I have remained without a flag.

The extreme nationalistic right stole the flag from me and with it the pride in being Israeli. This act of theft is unforgivable. From an emotional perspective, this is perhaps the most mortal of blows – a blow to those who wanted to be proud of their flag. A state that was portrayed in our childhood as more righteous than any other, the state of the Jews became the state of the occupation, and its flag was expropriated for criminal purposes. We no longer travel abroad with the flag flying in front of us. Only at the March of the Living at Auschwitz and at away games of Maccabi Tel Aviv do we still wrap ourselves in the flag bearing the Jewish star, only there is it still permissible to be proud and confrontational. In Europe, they are burning Israeli flags, as we burned the effigy of "the Egyptian tyrant" in our childhood at Lag B’Omer bonfires. With our own hands, we provided reasons for those who over the years became haters of Israel. They did not always burn this flag.

Importers of Chinese-made Israeli flags report a decline in sales this year. Nonetheless, a substantial number of cars and homes are again bedecked with flags. Perhaps this is the power of habit. Perhaps it is blindness that prevents those brandishing the flags from seeing the aims the flag serves. And will I raise the flag this year on the flagpole in the garden of my home? I am exempt from deciding: Like every year, my neighbors upstairs have covered the garden with the flags of Israel Defense Forces units and the national flag, a colorful and rustling sea of flags, which they have kept since their childhood. In any case, there is no room for my flag.

(, April 22, 2007) 

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