From the very early years of statehood, Israel’s security agencies considered flags and displaying or not displaying them to be an issue of great import. Attitudes towards the Israeli and the Palestinian flags among the Palestinian public and its leadership were closely monitored inside Israel at first, and after 1967, in the occupied territories as well. Over there, Israel made sure to put into law that “no flags or national symbols may be displayed or affixed, except with permission from the military commander.”
In November 1968, about 18 months after the Gaza Strip was captured in the war of 1967, an 18-year-old high school student named Faiz from southeastern Gaza City’s Tufah neighborhood hung a Palestinian flag on the wall of his school and ran away. After that, about 60 students walked out and staged a protest. The Shin Bet coordinator who reported the incident noted that, “When the military appeared… the students fled, and the military managed to apprehend several students who participated in the protest.” Asking the police to investigate the incident, the coordinator added a few comments:
“Faiz is a bad student.
The flag Faiz hung on the wall was homemade.
It is not known whether someone put Faiz up to hanging the flag.”
The Israel Police opened a swift investigation. Officers arrested Faiz along with another student. The school caretaker, also arrested, was released a little over two weeks later, when it turned out he was the one who removed the flag. The Shin Bet archives are inaccessible to the public, so we do not know how the affair ended or what Faiz’s final grades were. We do know, however, that this is not the only incident showing Israel’s security agencies have always attached a great deal of importance to flags and their public display – both within the Green Line and beyond it.
In the many years of Military Rule inside Israel (1948-1966), many resources went into monitoring, surveillance and record keeping of who among the Palestinian citizens of Israel celebrated Independence Day, who displayed the Israeli flag and who opposed displaying it.
In April 1950, ahead of Israel’s second Independence Day, the Military Rule headquarters issued a communiqué to the military governors, stressing the importance of the occasion. “We have a special interest in having Independence Day marked and felt among the Arab population of the held territories as well this year,” the letter notes, and goes on to detail several measures to be taken in Arab communities, including that “village Mukhtars (traditionally chosen leaders) and dignitaries must make sure Israeli flags and national emblems are hung in all major and public buildings in their village.” Another requirement was for schools to hold special events and talks about Independence Day and that “special prayers for the safety of the country and its president must be held in the villages” on the day. Cinemas in Nazareth and Acre were required to screen “special films” for free.
The Israeli flag has been a bone of contention for many years and something the Israel Police took very seriously. For instance, in the village of Tira, on Independence Day of 1962, “two flags were removed from the high school, one from the labor union building… two from the local council building, and, about fifteen flags were taken down from the electricity pole on the main street.” Police officers rushed to the scene but were unable to locate the flag removers. With the help of the Shin Bet, suspects were identified, “brought before the magistrate in Netanya and placed in custody for 15 days.” The investigation led to the arrest of an 11-year-old boy, “who confessed, following which we (the police) arrived at a clear picture” with respect to the removal and desecration of the flags.
The importance attached to flags and national symbols soon found its way to the occupied territories. One of the first steps Israel took after capturing the territories in 1967 was to prohibit the display of undesirable symbols. Section 5 of Order No. 101 regarding “the Prohibition on Incitement and Hostile Propaganda” (in effect, a prohibition on all political activity in the just occupied territories) instructs that “no flags or national symbols may be displayed or affixed, except with permission from the military commander.” Permission to display a Palestinian flag has, of course, never been given. This was not simply a matter of symbolism. In his book, The Carrot and the Stick: Israel’s Policy in the Administered Territories, 1967-68, Shlomo Gazit, who served as the coordinator of government activities in the Territories for the first seven years of the occupation and played a leading role in designing Israel’s occupation policies, said Israel aimed to “prevent residents of the territories from participating in shaping the political future of the territory.” According to Gazit, the administration in the territories had ways to undermine the business and property of a person who exhibited “nationalism.” The military government in the territories considered the Palestinian flag to be an expression of collective Palestinian identity and, therefore, ban-worthy.
Akevot Institute researcher Adam Raz’s full story was published in Ha’aretz weekend supplement in February 2023