Imagine the outrage if the DUP, in a show of solidarity with the people of Israel, ran the Star of David up the flagpole at its Dundela Avenue headquarters.
Pseudo Liberals would go berserk, with white line pickets, black flag protests and Heaven knows what else. West Belfast muralists would have a field day, there’d be emergency motions at Stormont and Unionism would again be calumnified around the world.
Yet when Sinn Féin proudly tweeted that the Palestinian flag was flying alongside the Tricolour at its Connolly House HQ on the Andersonstown Road, there was barely a murmur on social media.
(The fact that Sinn Féin has two flagpoles, when one is enough for most parties, does prompt the question ‘why’? Is the spare pole just in case a post-Haass rapprochement involves flying the Union Flag and Tricolour side by side?)
The lack of response even in Twitter’s darkest corners to this literal act of flag-waving by a party which calls for a commonsense approach to the issue might lead one to conclude that no-one is surprised that SF will greedily seize any opportunity to make mischief.
Even as the Shinners were unfurling the Palestinian colours, there was another strange little flag incident in a different part of West Belfast.
A cultural centre joyfully tweeted a picture of children at a summer scheme. The context is unclear, but the young ones are wearing tabards cleverly fashioned from what seem to be paper sacks. A lovely idea.
Until you notice that Palestinian flags, emblazoned with the slogan ‘Free Gaza’, have been painted onto some of the makeshift shirts.
Now imagine the outrage and the media firestorm if youth leaders at a summer scheme in Balllybeen or Taughmonagh tweeted a pic of the children in their care running around the five-a-side pitch in be-sloganed home-made Israeli shirts.
Flag madness, of course, is not limited to one side. The idiots who sprayed ‘C18’, the oddly contrived name of a neo-Nazi rabble, on a wall just metres away from a lamp-post adorned with the Star of David, underline the schizophrenic mindset of some thugs who tarnish the word Loyalist.
So yet again the battle lines are drawn. In this Province of simple equations, Prod equals Israel and Taig equals Hamas.
For those who don’t subscribe to this view the Twittersphere is a dangerous place. Any attempt at reasoned debate is vaporised in a maelstrom of venom that generally descends to gutter level.
Much of the condemnation of Israel is anti-Jewish hatred, disguised as attacks on the evils of Zionism. The Left’s illiberal tolerance for anti-Semitism was engagingly questioned by Barton Creeth in a recent post on Slugger.
What Israel has done is wrong. Full stop. But the brutish Hamas, with its incessant rocket attacks and desire to wipe out every Jew, bears a huge responsibility in the appalling slaughter being wrought on its people. There are no angels on either side.
Israel’s policy may drive the people of Palestine to even further extremes: no one would be winners if the monsters of ISIS brought their joyless Caliphate to Rafah and Jabalia. The women of Gaza would be reduced to the level of child-bearers and water-carriers.
Now, that’s what I think. It’s not what I know! For, like the rest of us in Northern Ireland, I don’t know how or what Israelis and Palestinians think. I’m neither Israeli nor Palestinian.
What I do know is that too many people here are living out their ancient prejudices through Gaza’s anguish, using it as a way of perpetuating time-worn divisions without actually being seen to openly hate the other side.
It’s a bit like inadequate parents living out unrealised ambitions through their children. In effect, it’s bitterness by proxy.
Gaza’s tragedy serves a sadly convenient purpose, tailor-made as a conflict which involves Jews and Muslims but not Christians. We don’t see them rushing to take sides in Ukraine vs Russia or, Heaven forbid, Christian Nigeria vs Muslim Nigeria.
That would be too difficult. First, they’d have to work out what ‘team’ they’re on and then what sort of Christians they’re going to support…
In a thoughtful and reflective piece in the Belfast Telegraph, the respected Henry McDonald argued that our role should be that of ‘critical friends’, advising whichever side we ‘support’ that there are better ways to bring lasting peace.
Henry is absolutely right. For what many are doing is raking over the indecently shallow grave of our own painful and communal – yet unshared – memories.
‘Free Gaza’ tabards and ill-flown Stars of David will change nothing. We arrogantly overstate our puny influence on world events.
We are not yet mature enough as a post-conflict society to try and impose our simplistic ersatz solutions on hatreds that run deeper than even we can ever understand.