“Flag madness is not limited to one side” – argues Jane de Courcey

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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.


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  1. Peaceaboveallelse on

    “In this Province of simple equations, Prod equals Israel and Taig equals Hamas?”

    Bit of a loaded statement. Don’t you think? Just because an individual opposes the actions or Israel, does not mean they support Hamas. Your wording, like a lot of reporting regarding the conflict, aims to the associate those who support Palestine, with terrorism, and that’s simply not the case. I agree, there are no angels on either side of the conflict, however, contrived, aggressive syntax like yours only serves to worsen the situation.

    The reality is, this is not our war. It is not the war of any Northern Ireland native, and clinging to opposing sides, in the hopes of progressing your own agenda, in both the nationalist, and loyalist communities, is wrong. We should as a whole, strive for peace and justice, regardless of our own personal demeanour.

    • There are angles. I’ve seen the photos of their bodies, even one’s head, blown apart. Today, Peter Lerner personally put the number of militant Hamas members in the hundreds. That’s in a population of 1.8 million displaced refugees.

      I think we can judge the 80% of the, approximately, 9,000 dead and injured in the angel box.

      • Peaceaboveallelse on

        I agree, and I apologize for the somewhat misleading wording. The context that I refer to “neither side having angels”, was entirely in relation, to those in power, responsible for the ongoing conflict. Those whom have died, on both sides of the conflict, deserve their dignity, and although the death-toll is significantly higher on the Palestinian side, it should not belittle the death of any individual whom has died at the hands of Palestine. It’s important to remember that on both sides of this conflict, there are people, not statistics.

        • Nothing to apologise for. The dark side of the Israeli state is its sheer spite and (as Bibi told America at the weekend) exceptionalism.

          It’s spite manifests itself in its objection to any international recognition of Palestine (while banging on about Hamas not recognising israel) and any political progress such as the recent Palestinian coalition (IMHO, the cause of this invasion).

          The exceptionalism is exemplified in their refusal to recognise any UN resolutions against them,of which there Re many. Added to that, like their yank friends, they are not signed up to many international bodies and arms agreements.

  2. Thank you Jane for this balanced perspective. The sickening sights in Gaza shock us all and have us questioning if Israel’s strategy is a step way too far. Yet, as we see the details of the horrors of war in Gaza as the first item in every single news report, with the exception of today when it’s WW1, one has to ask what is happening in Syria now, what is happening in Northern Iraq, what is happening in the Central African Republic, what is happening in the Ukraine etc.? It concerns me that anti semitism is always simmering under the surface and that those who are demonstrating against Israel’s actions are remarkably quiet about possible alternatives to removing the tunnels and the terrorists who hide behind human shields and then turn the consequences to their own advantage.

    • Have a look at my twitter accounts, those who I follow and some who follow me. There are tons of Jews and Jewish groups who are against the attack on Gaza, as well as the occupation of Palestine in general.

    • Balanced? Surely this is a some form of poor taste satirical joke. There is nothing balanced or enlightened about this perspective.

      “Now, that’s what I think. It’s not what I know!”

      Well let’s have a look at what you think;

      1. You think there is something wrong with Sinn Fein having two flag poles,

      2. You think supporters of the Free Gaza/Palestine Movement are using the unfathomable horrors that Palestinians are being subjected to as a means of putting the needle into Unionism,

      3. You think condemnation of Israel’s actions is a veil for anti-Semitism

      4. You think Twitter is a poor place to debate something

      5. You think everyone here has picked a side because of their disposition on politics here

      6. You think those that have concern for the issue cannot in any way help because of the way deep rooted hatred has stalled us to move on.

      Now let’s have a look at what I know;

      1. There’s no law saying one cannot two poles sticking out from ones building,

      2. Those who despairingly look on at the turmoil and anguish being brought on to the Palestinian people do so with compassion and humanity. They don’t look at is a drum to beat ‘themmuns’ with.

      3. The accusation of anti-semitism is a Israeli PR tactic implemented by those within the media that have interests aligning with Israel,

      4. Twitter is a poor place to debate things, as you can see 140 characters is no where near enough to educate the ignorant,

      5. As I see it, there is only one “side” that have based their support upon their politics here, namely Unionism/Loyalism. The issue of Israel and Palestine was never an issue for Loyalism until Republicans aligned their support for a free Palestine,

      6. We are probably the most suitable people to consult regarding this issue, as a people, we have been through, to an extent,what is happening in the Middle East, and although we are continually stalled by old squabbles and a lack of leadership, it has been 20 years since the IRA ceasefire and bar a few hiccups along the way we are progressing, to a point where two inexplicable rivals are now capable of sitting in the same room as one and other.

      Oh and Hazeleva, any reporter that has been to Gaza has categorically denounced the accusation that Hamas use civilians as human shields, you’re just another victim of the well oiled Israeli PR machine, one which is not too dissimilar to the one masterminded by Josef Goebbels. #Irony

    • The usual diversion tactic of playing victim under the anti-semitic banner no longer works I’m afraid while the horrors of Israel’s offensive play out. The conflicts you mentioned are civil wars in which us taxpayers make no contribution to and our governments are open in condemning. Israeli war crimes in the age of social and alternate media cannot be hidden by those with interests in doing so.

      Yesterday as 5 kids died outside a UN school we hear Megdev claiming there were 2 terrorists on a moped, now you tell me, does it take a 1tonne+ bomb in a country with a densely packed civilian population to take them out? Israel is one of the most technologically advanced and well armed militaries in the world, are you saying there is no alternative?
      And I say this assuming the story of 2 terrorists is even true, if you want I can link you to a UN report released after one of their schools was hit previously by Israeli shelling, again to the loss of civilian life, concluded that there were no terrorists present in and around the school and that the IDF had received warning after warning that the school was populated.

      Are you also telling me that 1500+ civilians including doctors, aid officials, men, women and children were all used as human shields? What about the IDF’s use of human shields on over 1200 occasions(that we are aware of), are you aware of that?

  3. Just to clarify their are both Christians living within Palestine and Israel, and Muslims living in Israel and Jews living in Palestine plus various other religions, the same way Northern Ireland is not just Protestants and Catholics, we live in a multi-diverse society, which some fail to realise. This facade is not just black and white as its portrayed as being. The protests in support of the Palestinian people are wide spread throughout the world with Jewish people standing up and showing their support, and venting their outrage at the many civilian deaths that include children. Antisemitism has nothing to do with it at all, its about human rights. Human rights for children and others not to be targeted, to have proper food, water and medical supplies. You talk about Syria, but fail to mention how the USA are arming the jihads who have taken over Iraq at the moment, to continue the civil war within its boarders. People protested in large amounts of numbers over the illegal war in Iraq which is still going on today, where the USA and UK went to war on a country without a UN resolution, that claimed millions of lives. Outrage was also shown when the USA stopped food, water, and medical supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan causing the deaths of near 1 million children during the Gulf war. While there is a very small minority with NI who seem to have the impression ‘My enemies flag is an enemy of me’, the majority of people are protesting in response to the crimes committed by Israel.

  4. As you mention twitter, there are a couple of very loyalist guys who are very much outraged with what israel is doing. They are not alone in being, possibly, sympathetic to israel but realising what is going on in Gaza as a constant war crime.

    And fair play to them

  5. Absolute swing and a miss. It’s about right and wrong, not ‘green’ and ‘orange’. Of course there is going to be small minority who try to align it with our recent past, but it’s a nonsense to say that’s all it means. If you have to split it into teams, then it’s probably more apt to say ‘humane’ and ‘inhumane’. Silly piece.

  6. Jane, I hope it has done you some good to get that rant off your chest!
    You didn’t really contribute anything noteworthy, you seemed to have a list of everyone you wanted to take a swipe at without leaving anyone out.
    But I suppose it was cheaper than a session on the psychiatrist’s couch, and will have less side-effects than a bottle of pills.

  7. Ha Ha Ha Ha, you do much research for that Jane? You see that Israeli Fleg and combat 18 graffiti side by side for yourself?

  8. Jane, I’m not pro Hamas, I’m anti child murder.
    The world stood up to Nazi Germany in the 40’s, its not time to stand up to Zionist Israel.

  9. How is it that even political commentators in this country even have to become embezzled in the nitty gritty pettiness of flags, meanwhile there is a genuine conflict taking place where hundreds of civilians have lost their lives and continue to do so!

  10. Folks, whatever your views, I appreciate that you took time to read the post.

    The piece did not examine the awfulness of what’s happening and was never intended to do so. The aim was to show how outside events can become entangled in our own particular situation, creating a new context for antagonism by injecting a broader issue into the equation.

    ‘Our’ flags dispute is an example, with foreign standards becoming a foil for what I described as ‘hate by proxy’.

    In any blog – where one must impose a sensible limit on words – not everything can be covered. When writing the piece, I was going to mention the fact that a minority of Christians (and others) do live in the region, but did not as I was conscious of the need to keep things concise.

    The same goes for the line ‘Prod equals Israel and Taig equals Hamas’: it’s a deliberately sweeping generalisation that sums up the overall perception of tribal allegiance to a particular viewpoint. Of course there are many exceptions. The irony, I hope, made the point.

    The tragedy of Gaza has again crystallized opinion in Northern Ireland, encouraging some to take sides in a very vigorous fashion. It is highly unlikely that those who cleave to a strongly-held opinion will be persuaded to adopt a different stance through Twitter exchanges.

    Lest this comment turn into a second blog, I shall end there, but I do feel that Peaceaboveallelse below puts it well when he/she says (I’ll skip over the ‘contrived, aggressive syntax’ bit): ‘We should as a whole, strive for peace and justice, regardless of our own personal demeanour.’

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

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