Ordinarily, as a non-Israeli citizen I hesitate to make suggestions. But here’s an idea that in spite of the endless debates about the war hasn’t yet (as far as I know) even been discussed: Flying a Palestinian flag at the Knesset.
Now I imagine for most of us our first reaction is anger and disgust. Put up the flag of the terrorists that murdered thousands, are holding our captives, and shooting rockets at our cities? I know, I know. I understand. But please just hear me out.
First, let’s try to imagine that it’s not the flag of Hamas. That truly would be an abomination. But flags are symbols, and symbols are prone to multiple interpretations. So let’s consider this not the flag of Hamas, but rather of the Palestinian people as a whole.
There is one fundamental issue that has to be solved in order to have any chance at peaceful coexistence. Do they want to destroy us, or do they want to live in peace beside us? With the ones who want to destroy us, peace is impossible. With the ones who want to live beside us, we can negotiate.
So too the other way. Palestinians have to be believe that Israel’s goal is to create a solution that enables them to live with dignity and rights, not to subject them to second-hand status or run them off their land.
What better way to make clear that the goal of the Gaza war is only to defeat Hamas, but not to destroy the Palestinian people, than by putting a Palestinian flag next to the Israeli flag at the Knesset? Forget the specifics of one state, two states, or whatever. These flags will symbolize a vision of two peoples someday, somehow living together with dignity in peace.
Around the world, hoisting flags as a symbol of sympathy has now become a bitter competition. After the Oct. 7th massacre, numerous international landmarks were lit up blue and white. Now, Palestinians are demanding that these same landmarks be lit in their colors or display their flag. Israel supporters try desperately to stop this, labelling any jurisdiction that shows the Palestinian colors ‘anti-Israel’ or worse.
But why can’t we just ask that any city or country that puts a Palestinian flag on their landmark should display an Israeli flag as well? Is there really anything wrong with acknowledging that Palestinians are also currently suffering? The greatest endorsement of this approach would be to have both flags at the Knesset. After all, if Israel flies both no one can object to London or Berkeley California following suit. A bitter, fruitless fight over sympathy neutralized in just one stroke.
Of course I realize that a Palestinian flag at the Knesset would be upsetting, traumatizing, and probably even triggering to many Israelis. How can someone whose loved ones are currently being held captive in Gaza, someone with family members serving in combat, someone living under rocket fire, be expected to look at that flag?
It’s a tall order. I understand that many would find this infuriating. Let’s acknowledge that pain, listen to the rage, and accept that people have every right to these feelings.
But if we’re guided only by our suffering, we guarantee a future of more. To change course we may need to do painful things.
You might ask why the Knesset? How about first starting with synagogues or Jewish community centers, some of which might be more likely to go along? There’s a big problem. However a Palestinian flag placed next to an Israeli one at a synagogue or JCC might be understood, reassurances from synagogues and JCC’s that Israel wants to pursue peace and is not out to destroy the Palestinian population don’t amount to much. Rabbis and Jewish community leaders don’t give orders to the IDF, only the Israeli government does. If this symbolic gesture comes from Israel’s government, it may mean something to Palestinians. If it comes only from synagogues and assorted Jewish organizations it certainly will not.
I realize this idea would not be popular with the Israeli public. That’s why we need leaders who don’t make decisions with an eye towards the evening news or potential affects on voters if elections were held tomorrow. Instead, we need a focus on the long term future. Specifically because many of us are now blinded by trauma, we need bold leaders with clear vision working towards a better tomorrow. If any of Israel’s leaders aspire to do that, I hope they’ll consider these thoughts.