Tareq S. Hajjaj
Mondoweiss / May 19, 2023
Palestinians in Gaza had a message for Israel following the settler Flag March in Jerusalem: “You raised your flag in Sinai, and you left. You raised your flag in the Gaza settlements, and you left. Soon you will leave our lands too.”
Ahmad al-Banna, 13, stands next to his mother on the front lines, raising the Palestinian flag in front of the Israeli rifles trained on them. He draws his ability to resist from his mother, daring to hold up the Palestinian flag in such a dangerous place. For his mother Amna, 49, this scene is familiar. Four years ago, she was injured in this same spot during the Great March of Return.
Today she comes with a crutch to support her in light of the permanent injury she suffered to her leg during the Great March.
Ahmad looks at his fearless mother as she crosses and walks amidst the fire, moving away from the tear gas but without leaving the front line. She ties the Palestinian flag to her neck and lets it slide down to her back as it flutters in the wind. For a child, it might as well look like she’s Super Mother.
They and many other people from the Gaza Strip stand on the border to protest the settler Flag March taking place on that same day in Jerusalem, May 18. They raise a sea of Palestinian flags in defiance. Onderkant formulier
“The Israeli Flag March means nothing, they walk in our streets, and the land denies their existence,” Amna says. “Raising the Israeli flag in Jerusalem will not make people ignore that it’s Palestinian land, and that Israel occupies it.”
Amna believes that she has to keep resisting the occupation and defending her land, to leave no chance for anyone to claim that Palestine belongs to the Israelis. In this sense, her existence today proves that Israelis are occupiers. The fact that they insist on organizing a march around the display of their flag is itself an implicit recognition of their status as temporary foreign invaders stealing other people’s land
“Instead of raising your flag in another people’s country, go back to your own countries. Palestine is not yours. Nothing in Palestine belongs to you,” she says. “No matter how much we bleed to defend our land, we will resist until our last breath. Jerusalem is Palestinian land, and we will get it back. The only flag that will be raised above its walls is the Palestinian flag.”
Thousands of Palestinians participated in the Palestine Flag March on Thursday, east of Gaza City, in the same place where the Great March of Return took place. The crowds of people responded to the call of Palestinian factions to participate in a “Palestinian flag march” at the same time as the Israelis’ scheduled march in Jerusalem. The participants in Gaza raised the Palestinian flag to confront the Israeli march and to send a message that this land belongs only to the Palestinians.
Families, teenagers, children, women, and some of the political leaders of the Palestinian factions in Gaza also participated. Israeli soldiers hid behind sand dunes and responded by firing tear gas at the peaceful demonstrators. The tear gas and rubber bullets wounded several people.
“You raised your flag in Sinai, and you left. You raised your flag in the Gaza settlements, and you left. Soon you will leave our lands too.” – Khaled al-Batsh, PIJ leader
The march is also an affirmation of the centrality of Jerusalem to Palestinian identity. “Despite the Israeli Flag March and the settlers’ acts in Jerusalem, this will not give Israel sovereignty over our land,” says Khaled Al-Batsh, a political leader in the PIJ. “Jerusalem is Arab and Islamic land, and will not be split into two countries.”
The PIJ leader asserts that the fight for liberation is ongoing. “To everyone who raises the Israeli flag in Jerusalem, you will not have this land. Your march reflects your failure and your fears. You raised your flag in Sinai, and you left. You raised your flag in the Gaza settlements, and you left. Soon you will leave our lands too. We are the owners of this land, and we are its knights,” al-Battsh told Mondoweiss.
Despite the terrifying five days of Israeli bombardment of Gaza this month, thousands of people participated in this march, and even got close to the Israeli fence to mount Palestinian flags on top of it. The young people in the field ran towards the tear gas whenever it fell among them to throw it back toward the soldiers.
“The Palestinian people have a high spirit of resistance and are ready to keep struggling until they get their rights,” Talal Abu Zarefa, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s political bureau, told Mondoweiss.
Abu Zarefa clarifies that raising the Palestinian flag is not merely a reaction to the Israeli Flag March, but is a way of denying the Israeli attempts to legitimize their occupation of Jerusalem. “Palestinians can’t be defeated, even in the darkest conditions and the high price they pay. They will keep fighting until the occupation ends.”
Moreover, the Gaza flag march was meant to remind the Israeli state and its settlers that the Gaza Strip has not been defeated and that the recent onslaught has not cowed its people. “We are asserting that the Palestinians will remain on their lands,” Abu Zarefa says.
Khalil Salman, 17, participates in the flag march and waits for a tear gas canister to come whizzing toward him; he then grabs its and throws it back to the Israeli side. He takes off his t-shirt and covers his head to avoid the gas. “I stand here today to defend my people and our holy sites,” he tells Mondoweiss. “There is no way that Palestinians can ignore Israel’s theft of our land. They celebrate now and raise their flag, but soon we will send them back to their lands and free our land.”
“If the land truly belonged to them, they wouldn’t feel the need to raise their flag every year like this,” the 17-year-old continued. “But we are here. We will take back our rights.”
Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent and a member of the Palestinian Writers Union