Watch what you wave

Last year, a friend and I were returning home after an afternoon out, and decided to take a longer route than usual. On the way, we passed a Jewish temple. We quickly noticed the prominence of the building, but more so we noticed the prominence of the flag waving above it.

The Israeli flag was striking for one reason: while the building itself was certainly impressive, the stature of the building seemed almost an afterthought beneath the flag itself. A shadow, almost. But how could an enormous building be a mere shadow of cloth?

We noted how odd it must have looked to passersby: a hijab-clad woman pondering the facade of a Jewish temple in the middle of the quite secular city. I’ll admit – we even shared a laugh about how strange it must have looked.

As we stood there, someone was making their way to the entrance for a service that evening. The person smiled and — what? Held the door open for us, thinking we were actually on our way inside.

Talk about crumbling walls. No, this didn’t break down the checkpoints, stop rocket fire, or bring down the firing posts looming from atop the wall tragically marking the Middle Eastern skyline. But it certainly threw me for a loop. I was being invited in, hijab and all. There was absolutely no animosity, fear, or hesitation in this stranger’s eyes. I declined the invitation, but was left with something to reflect on for the evening.

No image is simple.

Just before leaving the premises, my friend snapped a picture of me. Quickly. It was a picture of my face and the Israeli flag blowing above me. I was neither saluting nor cursing it. I wasn’t looking at it, either – I was looking ahead, even away from it. 

It was, at the time, simple: a snapshot of seemingly irreconcilable imagery. On a more analytical level, perhaps it was me looking toward a future where being invited inside wouldn’t have struck me as odd at all.

 Of course, nothing is simple. Flags are not simple, garments are not simple. People get seriously wound up about flags, about who they represent – and who they fail to represent.

Once the photograph was released, the lesson about flags was drilled into my conscience.  People made all kinds of assumptions about what the photo signified. They assumed – without bothering to ask.


11 thoughts on “Watch what you wave

  1. Great post. I think your friend must have been called an self-hating Jew and an anti-Semite! I hear that a lot about those who speak the truth. Then the world cries: “freedom of speech.”

    But I’m not sure what the reference to Ben-Gurion really means. After all, he’s the one who stated:

    “When we say that the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves —- that is only half the truth. As regards our security and life we defend ourselves. . . . But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict, which is in its essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves.”

    I posted some of Ben-Gurion’s quotes here


  2. brava. Yanno, I think some of these interfaith friendships are the only way that we’ll ever come to any kind of peace in the middle east. Things like Seeds of Peace are awesome, but even the small things; like my muslim husband being welcomed as a host child into a Jewish home in New York. He even participated in Jewish holidays and so forth.

    It’s so easy to demonize that which is foreign to you, but very hard to do so to a friend. Even my hardened, republican Dad is starting to soften towards Islam (a very little) having met you and Bilal. And for that matter, it’s been a learning experience for my in-laws and their friends and neighbors to meet an actual white, american woman and welcome her (me) into their family and culture.

  3. As you wear a Hijab, and have a Jewish friend, I think this represents how open-minded you and your friend are. In UK, there is an argument that come every few months that wearing a Hijab signals to the other person that you are unapproachable, etc… If more people in Palestine and Israel make similar efforts to get to know one another, it might really bear fruit as it already is to some extent.

  4. MMmm i think that was a good picture! silly me.. i only see it as an “art” rather than anything that might arouse talk about like or dislike / hate or not hate of something (religion in particular). As i come from Indonesia where there is no Sinagoge here so i never see Israel Flag (Star of David / Shield of David) in the sky above my country. salam..

  5. Dear Iqbal,
    You are not “silly”. You are logical, you are a thinker. And like so many Indonesians, you possess a reasonable and rational view of interfaith relations.

    What do you think the reaction would be to the sight of an Israeli flag in Indonesia?

  6. Interesting. I sometimes wonder the same thing, as a citizen of Quebec, what this Christian cross and four royal French fleurs-de-lys means to me. My cousin in Switzerland, whose flag is a giant cross, is the same. Ditto in the United Kingdom, composed of St Georges Cross (to represent the English people) and St Andrews Cross (the Scottish people). The Wikipedia page about it is interesting, here

    The answer that I usually come up with is that a flag is more than the content of the symbols depicted on it — it takes on its own meaning. I have some pride in the Quebec flag because it is my society, even if the religious and ethnic symbols which designed it are not my own. When I see it I see the flag, not those symbols.

    Sure, I understand that the reason the symbols are there is beacuse Quebec, even though (currently) a province, is set up to imagine it has a special responsibility towards the culture and language of a particular ethnic gruop, the French-Canadians. But that does not bother me, really; why should it?

  7. Shalom Raquel, to answer your question about the Israeli flag. I am an observant Jew to let you know. Also I respect all people and yes I respect and understand the Arabs as well. Yes the Israeli flag represents only the Jews and it would be absurd to say that the star of David represents Arabs in any way. I mean just think, how can any Arab in Israel, proudly take Israeli flag during an independence day and celebrate his own defeat. How can any Arab in Israeli be proud to sing his national anthem “Hatikvah” that speaks only of Jews. I know that not by bread alone does a man leave. I respect the Arabs and understand the Arabs and therefore wish them to live somewhere else in peace. I myself is involved with advocating of peaceful transfer of ALL Arabs out of Israel. Not because I hate them, because I want Arab children to grow in environment where they can be equal citizens either in one of 21 Arab states or any other democratic states so they would grow up and live happy. I want to live in peace with Arabs, I live in my State and Arabs live in their state in peace.

  8. I’m just a random guy searching for images of Israeli flags on google, stumbled across this one. Beautiful picture, and the post, even more beautiful. Thanks. May God bless you. I pray for peace in Jerusalem.

  9. Great entry, but there’s something i want to say. There’s crosses and Islamic symbols on flags all over the world and no one seems to care if they’re represented in those flags or not. Why’s it so different now that it’s a star of David?

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