On My Palestinian Flag

I took down my Progress flag the other morning and replaced it with a Palestinian flag, though I am not myself of Palestinian descent so far as I know. (I add the hesitance because I don’t know my mother’s family, but I suspect no Palestinian roots there either.) But I am horrified by the near-genocide I and all US taxpayers are complicit in as it is being perpetrated against the Palestinians.

I’m flying a Palestinian flag as another means of shouting at passers-by for the rights of a people facing genocide and apartheid, and—what is most galling of all to me—facing it at the hands of those who experienced an attempted genocide themselves and then that the attempted genocide faced by the Palestinians is being conducted on our dime twice over. First of all we are sending huge sums of money to the Israeli government for ‘defense.’ One could argue that that is to have a firm counter in the region against Iranian incursion, and that is one thing, and one thing that is legitimste enough. But Israeli defense inextricably involves the oppression of a people they cannot outright erase while the world is watching; it involves periodically “mowing the grass”, a phrase used by certain analysts to refer to Isreali military campaigns against their Palestinian prisoners (but allegedly conducted against a ‘terrorist’ group known as Hamas), every bit as gruesome as ancient Spartan campaigns to terrorize the population of slaves tending their fields. Second of all, after the Israelis “mow the grass,” as it is so disgustingly put, we come in with aid to rebuild: just so, a few days ago the President announced $316 million in funding for hospitals and refugees in his final minutes in Palestine, having devoted only so little of his visit to visiting the land crowded with Palestinians and despair.

We US taxpayers are on the hook for the UK’s former colony, sliced up and given to the survivors of an attempted genocide perpetrated against them along with all other minority groups in Europe at the time, including black, brown, and LGBTQ+ folks (but this last bit has gone little discussed because very few with any power have acknowledged this part of the Holocaust, it being inconvenient to the continued oppression of black, brown and LGBTQ+ people). The land had been known even to the the Greeks as Palestine: Herodotus uses the name Palestine, calling the area a ‘part of Syria’ (1.105.1). To be sure, Aristophanes mentions Jewish groups, once, though he does so to make fun of them for circumcising their boys (though I cannot remember where he does this). But as part of the end of World War II, the former colonial powers of Europe divested from most of their territorial holding (though of course not all of them). One that was given up was Palestine by the British, and it was given to surviving Jews as their ancient homeland—which it is, of course, but not theirs exclusively, since it is common to all three Abrahamic traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But now on behalf of the British, we US tax payers are funding the oppression of the Palestinians twice over, to fund the destruction of what little they have only to then rush in with a paltry amount of aid to help them rebuild what little they can manage given the oppressive limits placed on the import of even building materials. Think about that.

As for myself, I’m thinking about the slights doled up for the family of Shireen Abu Akleh, killed by an Isreali bullet, as was clear immediately on the ground and has now been confirmed by the US government. They were denied a visit with the President in Palestine (as consolation the President’s team allegedly offered to meet them at the White House), alongside the apparent dismissal of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, whom the President once championed on campaign, saying of Khashoggi’s murderer, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, that he ought to become a pariah. I’ve been imagining the sneering grin that the Crown Prince must have had on his face when he met the President, wondering how insufferably triumphant he was. Not that I have anything against the Saudis aside from the usual (9/11 chief among them), but I cannot abide a murderer.

And as I’ve looked around and listened to the average response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, noticing how committed everyone suddenly became to the cause of a beleaguered population and how fully they embraced a group of refugees totally the same as any other group of beleaguered refugees, seeing everyone putting out Ukrainian flags, it’s occurred to me that while I fully support this concern, I want this same concern to be extended to every other person in need no different than the Ukrainians other than the color of their skin and their slim socioeconomic opportunities at home.

It’s been horrifying to me to hear stories in the same hour-long broadcast about Ukrainian refugees fleeing by train and automobile in relative comfort, then another about refugees drowned in the Mediterranean, or even stopped and killed before they leave Africa, or else killed along the US border against Central and South America, or drowned off the coast of Florida, or found dead in the back of an abandoned semi-trailer on a Texas road. It’s unthinkable. But here we are. I think about all of the families that were ripped apart at the behest of our government, all those held in so-called ‘migrant detention centers,’ and all those others who up until recently were forced to ‘remain in Mexico,’ allegedly to combat the spread of Covid, subjecting them to unspeakable acts. And I think of all of those who do not even have the opportunity to flee, since migration costs money in our commodified world and it takes efforts often beyond large families of young children. Some, like the Palestinians, are held hostage by forces occupying their ancestral homes, coming in groups to destroy their homes and colonize new territories; others, like the Afghans, alongside the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, Iranians and so many others, are hostages of their own governments.

So I’ve put out a Palestinian flag on the same impulse as others have put out a Ukrainian. Not, I want to emphasize, at the expense of the latter, but only to make clear that other white people are not the only ones who need our help, who deserve our sponsorship, our charity and basic decency, and who ought to receive the welcome Ukrainians today and other white Europeans received so many years back before we solidified our borders in a deadly act of pure political theater. We are capable of helping others even as we are capable of helping each other; that we do neither is, for me at least, implicated by the red, black, white and green of the Palestinian flag flying outside my front door.

I wish first of all that nothing awful was happening to anyone, no oppression, no terrorizing, none of it. But since this is the reality for so many around the world, not only in Palestine, but also in Afghanistan, for Muslim populations in China and India, the Syrians, Lebanese, Yemenis, Lybians, Egyptians, Iranians, Iraqis—and this non-exhaustive list is just the one region of the globe from the Mediterranean to India, traversing the range of the ancient Indo-European peoples from which so many of the people alive today, but by no means all, are descended. This list of course leaves to the side regions south of Egypt, where colonial legacies have left gaping wounds and power vacuums, and the precarious existence of people in Central and South America, like the Haitians who have experienced nothing but loss for over a decade, by intensifying hurricanes brought on by industrial-capitalist-induced climate change, and now by raging socioeconomic and political instability, enduring what has devolved into what a reporter for Reuters has described as a ‘gang war’, as well as all the other countries that have suffered at the hands of US interventionism, opening them up for capitalist exploitation and fertilizing gang activity throughout the region to meet our consumption of narcotics of all varieties, from the medicinal and natural to the downright toxic. I might end this non-exhaustive list of plighted peoples with the Cubans, who suffer from a blockade imposed during the Cold War to intervene against Russian incursion so close to US soil. Given these realities for so many, I wish I had the means to fly every one of their flags simultaneously, a gallery of oppression, as a means of grabbing attention, raising awareness, and maybe even instigating change, which seems to move with the speed of a computer virus these days.

I’ve had my Palestinian flag out for a few days now, maybe three or four. The feeling is entirely different from seeing my Progress flag flying. It’s nothing like the feeling of, well, pride, I suppose, that swells in my chest when I see a Progress flag flying, that kind of rousing joy mixed with the exquisite psychosomatic warmth of being among others like oneself. But seeing the Palestinian flag brings me a great discomfort whenever it comes into my field of vision, but I realize that it matters to wear that discomfort against my skin like clothing, to let it be woven around me knot by knot. It is a discomfort we all buy anew annually with our tax dollars. It is a discomfort I hope I’m provoking in others when they see the Palestinian flag flying outside my front door.

In the end I want to be clear about something that has already been lobbed at me by many before they reach the end of this article: I am not by any measure anti-Semitic. My hostility is direct squarely at what is being done to the Palestinians (and so many others by other oppressors elsewhere), by the oppression they face. That the Palestinians are being brutalized at the hands of a formerly brutalized people is cause for much thought, but it is not a reason to feel animosity toward any person for their affiliations, let alone the group overall one and all. It is the systems of oppression I oppose and the oppressors’ continued ability to carry out their oppression, not any one group as a group. I feel a kinship with Jewish folks, as fellow sufferers of oppression; there is something about experiencing systematic oppression that links survivors as it links those who come later in their shared remembrance of an unspeakable evil. My point is that it is about time we learned our lessons from World War II and from all of the awfulness happening around the world. We don’t have to live like this, and we certainly don’t have to contribute our dollars or our efforts toward maintaining it.

For more on the Palestinian situation, check out this episode of Throughline, a history podcast that I am obsessed with, as well as this excellent resource list on Palestine from Kerning Cultures (another of my podcast favorites). See also this report from the UN on the economic costs of Israeli Occupation in Palestine.

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