Earlier this month, to welcome US President Joe Biden, Peace Now featured both Israeli and Palestinian flags on a banner in Tel Aviv, with the words “Welcome to the two countries we love the most,” referencing the president’s separate meetings with Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas.
To many, this billboard is a minor headline but for me it was more personal. It reminded me of a similar incident where unlike this one, both flags weren’t seen together for long.
On June 1, 2022, a Palestinian and Israeli flag were hung together on a building in Ramat Gan by an advocacy group that promotes coexistence. It only took a few hours for the Palestinian flag to be taken down.
With these two events in mind I can’t help but ask myself, what if it were to happen again without the Biden visit? Would the Palestinian flag last or will the four colors always resemble an enemy and source of terror in Israel’s eyes?
A Palestinian-Israeli identity
As a Jerusalemite, Palestinian citizen of the State of Israel and social activist in her first year of voluntary National Service, that fraction of a day was the only time I felt my identity accepted – a feeling cut short and replaced by disappointment.
Living in east Jerusalem is no easy story to explain. It is the only place where you can go from being a majority to a minority within a 10-minute stroll. Education is predominantly Palestinian, which by default gives Palestinians limited access among many disadvantages when applying to Israeli universities. The transportation system works in a way that I have never seen an Egged bus in Beit Hanina and the only reason why the light rail passes through Shuafat is to get to Pisgat Ze’ev. We are not taught Hebrew, yet our police officers do not speak to us in Arabic. Basically, the only place where it’s a part of the state is on a map.
The first counter argument is to point fingers at the Palestinians that actively reject the state. Which is very true and valid when taken out of context. I see Palestinians of east Jerusalem to be a forgotten minority within a minority. Not fully welcomed by West Bankers due to the perceived privilege of living inside the 1948 borders of what is considered Israel proper due to annexation. Our unique situation excludes us from any resemblance to Arab Israelis and we definitely don’t fall under the Israeli-Jewish category, thus alienated by all. That being said, the reaction is not always justifiable but understood.
Though I do acknowledge the efforts put out by people in the Jerusalem municipality and government I believe there is so much more to be done.
ON THE other hand, there are people like me, accepting the Israeli half of our identity and leading by example. From volunteering for National Service to simply voting for prime minister, these are elective actions by active citizens of the state. However, it makes it especially difficult when the state buffers out our Palestinian roots by adding us to the Arab Israeli cluster or worse attacking the concept of our existance.
The sight of both flags side by side in the name of coexistence was a big statement. Removal of only the Palestinian flag is an even bigger one. I used to think Jerusalem was a special case but after putting my professional career on hold and relocating outside of the city to volunteer for National Service I find myself constantly explaining and even justifying why I am here and why I belong to this land too. I also found that extremists aren’t limited to violent rioters; they are parents, employers and lawmakers, which scares me more than the chants of “death to Arabs,” or “death to Jews” on the streets.
Since Israel wants the right to commemorate the 1967 annexing of East Jerusalem with a loud flag march then it should, at the very least, drop the hypocrisy and claim the responsibility it holds towards its Palestinian residents and citizens in the city. We deserve acceptance, representation and a right to exist as if we are no different then the LGBTQ+ who proudly and under the guardianship of the state get their own march every year. Imagine if Palestinians of east Jerusalem could do the same under the protection of the State.
Such a step requires filling the ignorance gap by investing in our communities, education and acknowledging our presence. There are various institutions and funds helping new immigrants learn Hebrew and integrate into society. Why are Palestinians born here not given the same courtesy? The way I see it, the difference is willingness. Israel consciously avoids and is unwilling to take measures needed to welcoming its Palestinian population because we are complex. We are neither our assigned governments nor are we our extremists. When lacking solutions one will eventually have to choose from the little with which we are provided.
When walking on Dizengoff Street, I am constantly alert in case of another stabbing and shooting attack. I counted the days of Ramadan praying that we don’t get hit by rockets as we did last year.
I will equally never forget the time I was shot at by the Israeli Border Police in the safety of my own home in East Jerusalem or the awful disrespect I am treated with at airports. I have taken a leap of faith for this country by joining National Service, risking my security, connections and career. By taking this step I now carry fear of both sides but I am not sure I have the benefits of either.
The writer is a Palestinian Israeli from Sheikh Jarrah dedicated to forging coexistence between her conflicting identities.