Don’t put your flag away!

For the past four months, on Shabbat afternoon, I have walked down to the bus stop on Route 90 heading north, opposite the entrance to Kibbutz Ketura, to join my comrades from the kibbutz in our weekly protest of the attempted judicial overhaul. For more than three months, I have done so, carrying an Israeli flag.

My relationship with the Israeli flag has always been a bit ambivalent. I grew up in the United States in the 60s and 70s when you were more likely to find members of my generation burning the US flag rather than waving it. When I made aliyah in 1978, I transferred some of that ambivalence to my new country’s symbol of statehood. I hope that the fact that I made aliyah, leaving my home, my family, and my culture, to become a member of a kibbutz on the Jordanian border in the Arava Valley, serving in the NAHAL branch of the Israeli army, marrying my fellow garin member, Barbara, and raising a family together in Israel, puts aside any question of my patriotism. I simply have never been a flag waver and my lack of an emotional connection to the Israeli flag was only strengthened by the Jewish settlement movement’s appropriation of our national symbol for their campaign to annex the occupied territories. In addition, as I became more familiar with the Palestinian narrative, I also began to see the Israeli flag through the eyes of Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as those Palestinians we occupy.

So, when I began to carry the flag down to the road as part of the protest to save democracy in my country, it was not without some amount of internal debate. After more than three months of protests, however, in which the Israeli flag has now become the symbol of the struggle against attempts to turn Israel into an authoritarian regime, I find myself full of pride when I see our flags waving in the Arava desert breeze, like an oasis of freedom. The Israeli flag has now become the symbol of the struggle to stop the judicial overhaul, the symbol of human rights and protection of our freedom. It is my belief that a compromise will be found which will preserve our rights and freedom and leave Israel a stronger democracy than when this thing got started.

When that day comes, I will not roll up my flag and store it away for the next time. As I wave my Israeli flag in the Shabbat afternoon dry heat of the Arava, while the people of Israel rush home from their weekend in Eilat, many honking in support and some reminding us that “Only Bibi!”, I keep in mind that the freedoms we fight to protect today are not enjoyed by all of Israel’s citizen’s equally and certainly not granted to the millions of human beings under Israel’s military rule. Thanks to the protest movement against the judicial overhaul, the Israeli flag has come to symbolize democracy, equality, human rights, and freedom. We must not return the flag to the storage shelf before those rights have been won for all of those who stand beneath its shadow.

About the Author
Dr. Lehrer holds a PhD from the Geography and Environmental Development Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a joint Masters Degree in Management Science from Boston University and Ben-Gurion University. Dr. Lehrer was the Executive Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies from 2001 until August 2021 and has now become Director of International Development. Dr. Lehrer has been a member of Kibbutz Ketura since 1981.