By Mariam Barghouti / Mondoweiss
On Monday, January 9, the Israeli Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, banned the display of the Palestinian flag in all public spaces.
This order is one in a recent string of escalating attacks on Palestinians by the newly formed ultra-rightwing Israeli government.
The Israeli minister wrote on his personal Twitter account that he “directed the Israel Police to enforce the prohibition of flying any PLO flag that shows identification with a terrorist organization from the public sphere and to stop any incitement against the State of Israel. We will fight terrorism and the encouragement of terrorism with all our might!”
For Palestinians, this is only the latest step in Israel’s execution of its Jewish nation-state law, which creates a legal framework for cementing Jewish supremacism in Palestine.
A policy of erasure
In June of last year, the Knesset successfully passed a new bill that would ban the Palestinian flag in Israeli-funded institutions. The rightwing Israeli MK, Eli Cohen, justified the move by labeling the Palestinian flag as an “enemy flag.”
Although the banning of the Palestinian flag is not a recent endeavor, the ushering of an entire police force to intervene against an act involving the display of a piece of cloth is unprecedented.
Ben Gvir’s latest move is a severe escalation in the use of Israeli impunity to erase Palestinian visibility, especially following the Unity Uprising of 2021, which witnessed the collective mobilization of Palestinians across geographical and socio-cultural barriers imposed by Israeli apartheid practices.
“It’s a form of trying to negate Palestinian life, they’re suffocating us.”Dr. Linda Tabar
In March 2022, Israeli authorities officially launched Operation Break the Wave, which included the allocation of 180 million NIS ($52,256,340) to the Israeli Police. 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank and featured the most extensive armed and unarmed resistance against Israeli colonialism since the Second Intifada.
The recent criminalization of the colors of the Palestinian flag is a continuation of this recent Israeli onslaught. And it is a form of erasure against the Palestinian people.
“It’s erasure and a form of criminalizing every act of Palestinian resistance and identity,” Linda Tabar, a Palestinian professor of international relations at the University of Sussex told Mondoweiss.
From Nazareth, Tabar reflected on the recent escalation in light of what it means for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship within the Israeli state. “It’s a form of trying to negate Palestinian life,” Tabar said, “they’re suffocating us.”
A settler state
“There is a fascist state in power,” Jerusalem-based activist Jalal Abu Khater told Mondoweiss, reflecting on the recent act of blatant assault on Palestinians by the new Israeli government “And it is symbolized with Ben-Gvir’s coming in as minister.”
Itamar Ben-Gvir, 46, has risen into power in the past two years after intensified attacks on Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, back in May of 2021, during the police and settler assault on Palestinians dubbed Operation Guardian of Walls.
Prior to that, he was not a significant figure within the settler movement but rather was a familiar face within the Israeli criminal system. When the current Minister was 18, the Israeli military refused his draft, considering him too dangerous.
What was telling in Ben-Gvir’s statements is also highlighted in the reference to the Palestinian flag as a “PLO flag,” which associates the Palestinian national banner with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, founded in 1964 and currently chaired by Mahmoud Abbas, the de facto president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) regime, and one of the original co-founders of the Fatah political party.
The PLO is also the institutional partner in the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993-1994 by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. Ben-Gvir had stolen the Cadillac emblem off of Rabin’s car weeks before the Prime Minister was assassinated while at a rally supporting the Oslo Accords.
“Calling it a PLO flag is also an attempt to destroy anything Oslo. In the first Intifada, you weren’t allowed to carry a flag,” Professor Tabar told Mondoweiss. In this sense, Ben-Gvir foreshadows an Israeli state governed by settler rule.
“The law is such a coercive instrument in their hands that they use to legalize repression and violence, and settler colonial repression,” Tabar explained to Mondoweiss. “The law is only a tool to help them in that process.”