Magazine article Tikkun

Reclaiming the Flag

Magazine article Tikkun

Reclaiming the Flag

Article excerpt

WEEKS BEFORE ISRAELI INDEPENDENCE DAY, VARIOUS ENTREPRENEURS APPEAR AT intersections around the country selling flags that can be attached to the roof of the car. These innocuous vendors invariably trigger in me a soul-searching as I wrestle with existential questions about the meaning of the flag in my personal and collective contexts.

"Look at the flags!" my son Nadav exclaimed excitedly when he first saw the vendors last year. "Let's get one."

"My friend Alon's car has two flags!" his twin brother Asaf chimed in.

"C'mon mom. Can we get a flag??"

Well, I asked myself, not for the first time, can we get a flag? An apparently simple question, with so much baggage beneath the surface.

What does it symbolize, that white rectangle with the two blue stripes and the Star of David in the center? What would I be saying if I hung it from my car? I cannot divorce this question from the reality of my daily life.

I see my three kids growing up happily in Jerusalem, talking, thinking and dreaming in the Hebrew language, living their life according to the Jewish calendar. My kids would have no problem unhesitatingly subscribing to the words of the Steven Van Zandt song: "I am a Patriot / and I love my country / because my country / is all I know."

For me it is not that simple. I prefer to think of myself as a citizen of the world and, having been born and raised in the United States before moving to Israel fifteen years ago, I "know" and am full of criticism for both. Patriotism doesn't come so easy to skeptics like me.

And to compound the general skepticism, I lead BTselem, an organization dedicated to documenting and publicizing what are the least attractive aspects of Israel: its military control of the Palestinian population and all the abuses of that control-land confiscations, checkpoints, house demolitions, administrative detentions. It's hard to be a flag-waver in my job.

But I too love this country. It infuriates me to see the label "proIsrael" become a euphemism for the worst of jingoistic Zionism, appropriated exclusively by people who are so clearly working against the welfare of the State of Israel. What is more pro-Israel than my work at BTselem, where we are struggling to make Israel live up to the essence of Jewish and human values? …

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