Updated: Apr 20, 2022
Flags of Revival and Strife in Jerusalem
The lion rampant of Judea has become the symbol of Jewish Jerusalem.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is one of the most contentious and complicated. I have one desire in this chapter and I know it is a mission impossible: to keep everyone happy and not to upset anyone: Israelis, Palestinians, religious and secular, nationalists and moderates, right-wing and left-wing, Islamic, Christian, Jewish and Druze. I will do my best to achieve this, even though I have no great illusions of success. Bearing in mind these two entities are so exclusive and antithetical to each other, I will try to present the case of each party fairly, and really hope most people will feel their side vindicated. Undoubtedly, some people might be offended by some symbols here: Symbols generate emotions, that's their purpose. Also, to enrage, disconcert, even to shock the enemy, it doesn't matter on which side you are. If you have objections to any statements here, please express your opinion politely and to the point.
Flags and symbols express, in modern times, identity, ideals, aspirations, traditions, history. In this country more than some, they express proactive presence and possessions. Both contesting parties have one thing in common - the total exclusion of the other in any kind of symbol. This induces the feeling, sensed by many who live and visit here, that when you go into Jewish or Arab areas, you feel that you have left one country and walked into another. It is certainly the feeling in the mutually exclusive cities and towns but also in mixed cities, where there are visible or invisible dividing lines, as when one crosses the tram line at Haim Barlev Boulevard in Jerusalem. Of course, there are even more significant changes when one crosses into the Palestinian authority areas.
There are notable differences in the architectural characteristics and aesthetic preferences of both communities, so it is natural their symbolism would be different. The modern Jewish state set forth its modernity and future-oriented philosophy: The Zionist movement, in its beginning, was dominated by the Labor movement, with Soviet inspired symbolism, mixed with Jewish nationalism. They differed in that the East European socialism affiliated itself with Social-Realism, and the Zionists tended to more Modernist styles, in architecture (Bauhaus school influence) and also in symbolism. This is changing today, with the right-wing conservatives and religious parties becoming dominant, and using more Jewish traditional symbols.
Hapoel Ha'ivri, 'the Hebrew Worker', icon of the Zionist labor movement, in a constructivist modernistic style in the Tel Aviv exhibition of 1934. In the background the Jewish Pavilion in the minimalistic International Style. Villa Gelat at Talbiyah quarter, Jerusalem: Palestinian eclectic 1926, with nostalgia to Jerusalem Mamluk architecture and traditional ceramic tiles.
The Palestinian National movement drew its inspirations from the Middle Eastern movements, trying to maintain Arab solidarity with the rise of Pan-Arabism and the balance between Nationalism and Islamism. Yet in maintaining this approach, Palestinians were trying to sustain a local distinct character, as opposed to Pan Arabist or Syrian Nationalism which included Palestine as the southern province of the Greater Syria.
They also had to consider the existence of large Christian communities, so the unifying force seemed a local nationalism, which would include Christians and Muslims. Local old-time Jewish communities, the Old Yishuv, who have lived here for centuries, were excluded. They were already associated, at that stage, with the Zionists and were, in fact, the first to be attacked in the early riots of 1920-21 and 1929 in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron.
So, from the very start, Palestinian Nationalism was there to form a future for the Palestinian people, and create a united front against what was perceived as a colonialist, hostile takeover of the country.
Communists on both sides tried to create joint platforms, but were largely regarded as traitors by both sides.
Obviously, there was little enthusiasm to create common symbols by the two warring parties, and the British gave up the attempt right away.
The colors the two communities chose were unmixable: Blue and white for the Jews as opposed to black, green, white and red of the Palestinians. None of the adopted National and religious symbols was remotely acceptable to the other side. Surprisingly, There was one single exception! The olive branch and tree.
This most typical tree of the land, beloved by all, appears on both Israeli and Palestinian symbols. Even the British discovered that.
British Palestine stamps and coins. The British realized it would be better to just stick to the olive branch.
Israeli emblems with olive branches: the State Emblem, Jerusalem emblem and the Israel Defense Forces badge.
Palestinian emblems with olive branches: Presidential seal, Jerusalem Hospital , and the Palestinian National Security Forces.
Unofficial popular use of the same symbol: Israeli IDF Golani Brigade Olive tree emblem (some say it's an oak) on a T-shirt design saying "My Golani" and Olive tree on typical T-shirt stating: I love you Palestine. But here, unfortunately, similarities end.
The Zionist quest for a national symbol.
Zionism was a new ideology, developed towards the latter part of the 19th century, identifying the Jews as a nation among the nations, notwithstanding they were dispersed around the world, having no land or common language. This was a radical, new approach developed by mainly secular, emancipated Jewish intellectuals, led by Theodore Herzl. Previous attitudes were that Jews were a religion, not a nation, or perhaps an ethnic minority with certain genetic origins (as modern antisemitism saw them) but did not have the essential prerequisite for nationhood. Zionism, although seeing itself as a secular national movement, based itself on the long-lasting prayers of the Jews to return to their homeland, lost when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD and dispersed the Jews into the diaspora. Zionists maintained Jews were discriminated against and persecuted regardless of their religious beliefs precisely on the basis of being a nation apart. The Zionist idea was to return to their historical homeland because only there could they build a national home in which they would be a majority and not a defenceless minority. Although not a religious movement, they believed Palestine could be a strong enough incentive to rally Jews, religious or secular, into a national movement to resettle the old Promised Land of Israel, and they were right. This did take some convincing, both of fellow Jews and of gentiles, although there were many who rallied around the idea, both Jews, and some supportive Christian groups, who saw Jewish revival as the beginning of the second coming of Christ. But the land was not empty.
In 1897, the first Zionist congress convened in the Swiss city of Basel, and they were searching for symbols.
The sentiments of re-settling Jews in the Holy Land started before that around the 1870s. It wasn't a full-blown nationalist ideology, But some Jewish philanthropists financed projects assisting resident Jews in Palestine, and also new settlers. These were the Montefiores' from Britain and the Rothschild families, who built charitable institutions. Their family coats of arms can still be seen in Jerusalem: Montefiore's at the windmill he constructed at Yemin Moshe, and in the Rothschild Houses of the Jewish quarter in the Old City.
Montefiore and Rothschild coats of arms. They were both in European aristocratic heraldic styles and didn't mean much to the Jewish radicals of Eastern Europe who were either socialists and had little sympathy to European nobility, or to others who came out of yeshivas (Jewish religious seminaries) in the closed Jewish communities, and knew nothing about figurative expressions.
First, there was an attempt to revive the little there was of Jewish heraldry, namely the emblems of the twelve mythical tribes of Israel, described verbally in the bible. Yet since figurative expression is frowned upon in some religious quarters, they are rarely seen.
Star of David or Seven Stars?
In certain synagogues, especially in the wake of Jewish emancipation, a relatively new symbol emerged in the 18th century, which had been used before as a decorative element in synagogues and prayer books without great meaning or symbolism. As it acquired the name Star (or shield) of David, it became more and more symbolic of Judaism. It became an icon of Jews and Judaism as opposed to the cross or crescent, and as such was adopted by the nationalist Zionist movement, precisely because it was of no particular religious significance. Even today, it is not popular among the Ultra-Orthodox who do not support Zionism because they regard it as nationalistic as opposed to religious.
Theodore Herzl, the ideologue and founder of Political Zionism and the first Zionist leader, envisioned a progressive, advanced, secular Jewish state, which would adhere to the ideal of a seven-hour workday. He drew his own flag, it had seven stars. It was apparent it wasn't inspiring enough so as the first Zionist Congress was to convene in Basel, the need for a logo was there and a flag that had been improvised in two colonies in Palestine, Nes-Ziona and Rishon-Lezion, was adopted. It was inspired by the Jewish shawl of prayer and the Star of David.
Herzl's initial etching , the gold Star of David. The rampant lion of Judah flag of the first Zionist congresses.
The flag known as Israel's today was adopted by the World Zionist Federation, but some were reluctant to make it the State of Israel flag in 1948, as they feared it would cause problems for diaspora Jews, giving an impression of double-loyalty. Therefore, there was a flag contest declared in 1947 and a committee tried to choose from the entries.
Finally, the Zionist flag won the day. It was in wide popular use already, and was definitely the people's choice. There was one overwhelming problem: it represented only the Jewish population. True, there was supposed to be a partition and two states: one Jewish, the other Arab, with its own flag. The other entity did not materialize although by then, the Palestinians had already established a flag of their own, also excluding any mention of the other side. Both sides were actually establishing their battle flags. There was no door opened for the opposite side: this land is ours entirely, uncompromisingly.
What happened to Herzl's Seven Stars idea?
They haven't entirely disappeared. The first and biggest Israeli shipping company "Zim Lines" adopted the seven stars as its logo, and they were hoisted between two blue stripes as house flag, and as funnel pattern on its ships (here, the S.S. Theodor Herzl, a Zim passenger liner of the 1960s and 70s). They still feature on some local flags such as Herzelia Municipality, last photo.
The State Emblem
The other debate was about the coat of arms. As the star of David was already used, there was an attempt to bring in also the religious and orthodox sector, to stand up to the ideal that the Jewish state is the homeland of all Jews. Here, the seven branched Menorah symbol was in first consideration. Partly for religious reasons, but also for a deep emotional one: Judea's defeat by the Roman Empire. The state of Israel sees itself as restitutive of the old Judean state. In Titus' triumphal arch in Rome, there is a relief of the ancient Menorah of the temple taken as a victory trophy. Choosing the particular form of the menorah from the arch, alluded to the restoration of Jewish sovereignty, although the Menorah was a liturgical religious vessel and not a national one
The famous relief on Titus Gate in Rome show the temple relics carried into captivity. The exact replica of the seven branch Menorah on the Israel State emblem. The ceremonial menorah in front of the Knesset, the Israel Parliament was contributed a group of mostly Jewish British MPs in 1956 and has become a tourist attraction. It was created by the the artist Benno Elkan and has scenes in Jewish history from biblical events to modern times, all depicted in reliefs on the branches of the Menorah.
Israel's official flags
1. National Flag 2. Presidential Standard 3. Military Standard
4. Merchant ensign 5. Naval ensign 6. Israeli flag of Jerusaem.
Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, more than a fifth of the population, are not represented in this flag. Other minorities such as the Druze and Circadian have their national flags, which are not considered offensive to Israelis, and are hoisted in state-sponsored events. Not so with the the Palestinian flag. It was banned by Israeli law yet since 1993 (Oslo accords), the ban is not implemented anymore, although most Israelis find it highly offensive and get quite upset if it is flown inside Israel.
Generally speaking, today there is an atmosphere of total mutual exclusion. These two pins could be sold at any souvenir stand across the country. A map of the entire Holy Land, all belonging to one side (The Israeli map includes the Golan Heights). However, their significance is very ominous. Palestinians in the West Bank have been living without basic civil rights since 1967. They do not have the right to vote in civilian elections for an independent, sovereign and viable state, and the Gaza Strip is, in fact, also under Israeli control. The Israeli flag and symbols are considered by many Palestinians to be symbols of occupation and the denial of human rights.
To Israelis, the Palestinian flag over the entire country is blatant proof that the Palestinians do not recognize the rights of Jews in the country, neither wholly nor in part, and of their ill intentions in regard to the old-new homeland, acquired through great sacrifice. That is the essence of the conflict.
Palestinians: a part of the Arab world, yet an ancient, distinct people of their own.
Palestinian intellectuals have been discussing this separate Palestinian identity since the end of the 19th century. Palestine was seen as part of the Greater Syria (Al-Sham) for centuries, it was controlled in Mamluk times from Damascus and Cairo, and as part of the Vilayet of Damascus in Ottoman times. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Ottomans realized Palestine was becoming a strategic target for European powers, especially after the completion of the Suez Canal. That was the reason they declared Jerusalem and the lands around to be special imperial province, the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem (Kudüs-i Şerif Mutasarrıflığı) in 1872. That was to dissuade the Europeans from thinking of taking the Holy Land, but to no avail, it happened 45 years later...
The Ottomans allied themselves with the Axis powers of WWI, Germany and Austro-Hungary, who sent troops to defend the Ottoman lands and were defeated by the British and allied forces. They were also defeated in Europe and fell apart as empires, as did the Ottomans, becoming the Republic of Turkey.
But the British had two allies in the region: The first of them were the Hashemite Hedjaz princes of the Arabian Peninsula, who were promised new kingdoms in the Levant: Syria, Iraq and parts of Palestine. They supported the allies and helped push the Ottomans out of the Arabian Peninsula.
The Hashemites realized that a group which was not really taken seriously until then, had received concessions and recognition for its support to the allied cause, through financial means, intelligence and a pledge to support British interests by settling the country, something the British were not planning to do. In 1917, the Balfour declaration was announced, where Britain declared its pledge to create a homeland for the Jewish People, although vowing to defend the interests of the local native population. That was not really reassuring for the Palestinians.
A series of clashes and riots ensued where Jewish communities were attacked, in the 1920's as a result of this situation. These clashes were known as the Nabi Musa Intifada by the Palestinians or the 1920 riots by the Jews. There was another more serious outburst in 1929 called the Al-Buraq uprising by the Palestinians and the 1929 Massacres by the Jews. It was obvious by then that no Greater Syria would arise, and the Hashemites got Transjordan to form there an independent Kingdom, whereas the Palestinians remained at the mercy of the British, who in turn, were grooming the country to become a Jewish homeland, with massive Jewish immigration coming in. The guidelines to the national identity stressed a Muslim-Christian solidarity. The nationalist movements initially, chose again the four Pan Arabian colors of black, white, green and red of the Arab Revolt of 1916. (first flag) In the 1920s the white stripe moved to the middle. In the Great Palestinian Revolt of 1936-1939, a flag with a crescent and cross was used.
The four colors symbolize Arab Heritage: Black stands for the flags of that color used in the time of the prophet, and it was also the color of the Abbasid dynasty. The Umayyad dynasty used white flags. the Fatimids used green, and finally, the red triangle indicates revolution and emancipation.
In 1929, the journal Filastin, published in Jaffa, encouraged Palestinians to send a suggestion, for a distinct Palestinian flag. According to research by prof. Tamir Sorek, they introduced the color orange as distinctive of Palestine, with oranges being the common crop. (Jaffa Oranges were an internationally renowned brand a long time before the Israelis took it over after 1948) The idea didn't quite take off. Like regarding the Zionist competition a few years later, there already was a popular flag in use, and there was no enthusiasm for change. But we have here some evidence of this attempt. Here are some of the entries and their elaboration to clear colors.
Some of the entries in clear colors. (image by Eugene Ipavec FOTW site.)
The flag was ratified again in 1964 by the PLO and in 1988 upon the declaration of the Palestinian state. It is still a flag of struggle and resistance against the Israeli Occupation of their land and is central in demonstrations and artwork in Palestinian society.
If one tours any city with a Palestinian population, be it Nazareth inside Israel or Bethlehem in the Palestinian State area, the flag is still an act of resistance and defiance.
Dome of the Rock as popular emblem.
Other symbols which have gained popularity are the Dome of the Rock, the monumental mosque on top of Temple Mount/Haram a Sharif and the keffiyeh, the local men's headdress, and it's particular black and white design pattern. The Al-Aqsa Dome of the Rock has a more religious, Islamic significance, whereas the Keffiyeh is a nationalist symbol popularized by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, making it his hallmark and a widely used symbol and item. Top to bottom: Wall decorations on a Muslim's home in Jerusalem for returning from the pilgrimages to Mecca. They include silhouettes of the Kaaba in Mecca and of the Dome of the Rock, and an eight-pointed star, which is emerging as a new unifying Palestinian symbol. (photo: Tamar Hayardeni) The Zaatar pyramid at Al-Quds Spice store in the Jerusalem Souq. with the Dome of the Rock on top. A child holding up a model of the Mosque wearing a Keffiyeh in a poster of the presidential guard, and finally, the emblem of the National Security Force. The symbol of the dome of the rock takes center stage in the emblems of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations.
The keffiyeh symbol. Today there is a merging of symbols of all movements in the spirit of Palestinian unity. Like on the Israeli side, Palestine, here, is the whole country.
The National Emblem
The Palestinian state emblem is the eagle of Saladin, based on a relief on the wall of Cairo citadel. There are accounts of it being used on his banner. There is a "contest" in the Arab world between Saladin's eagle, and the falcon of the Quraish. In most Arab states to the east of Palestine, except Iraq, it is the falcon which is the centerpiece of the emblems, including Syria, Jordan, the Gulf states. Quraish was the clan of Prophet Mohammad. I don't know why the eagle was chosen. I speculate that perhaps the falcon had more Islamic connotations, the eagle implying perhaps a more nationalistic message which could also appeal to the Christians? I would be happy for readers who might know, to tell me.
Below: the Palestinian president's seal, Emblem of the Preventive Security force, with the Eagle. Next, the Palestinian Legislative council, with the eight-pointed star.
Finally, the official flags. The first, stayed and remained the National flag. then the State flag, charged with the eagle and crossed swords. Third, the presidential flag with the same symbol and olive wreath and finally the municipal flag of East Jerusalem, with the octagram.
As far as I know, there are no Maritime or Naval Ensigns.
A common flag?
There have been attempts to create common Israeli-Palestinian flags, but these are rare and far-between, usually initiatives by some individual or miniscule groups. The basic situation is that of one people controlling another people, and so talking about symmetry is immaterial. The Palestinians oppose any normalization, as long as they are in this situation. Most Israelis are not willing to acknowledge it.
There is no mood for cooperation on either side, and except for some NGOs, especially in the Israeli left wing, most people are quite pessimistic about any form of peace. In any case, the Israelis who form joint initiatives are considered as traitors on their side, and so are the Palestinians who cooperate by their own side. And yet, the two people co-exist in the same territory, they work together, sometimes even socialize, laugh together, eat together, and then clash occasionally. Most of the time, they pass each other, side by side, ignoring the existence of the other as much as possible, as if they were living in parallel worlds. Most people arriving from the outside are perplexed by what they witness and are quite astonished it does not look like what they had expected, seeing the news back home. It is a very complex and unusual type of war.
These symbols you have seen, express the conflicting national aspirations and desires of the peoples, and the fact that they have not agreed upon a mutually acceptable idea of co-existence, something that they could trust and feel reassured about, each for their own future. This absence of a good, all-inclusive idea, acceptable to all sides, results, unfortunately, in a war, and consequently, any joint symbols are irrelevant at this stage.