JERUSALEM (Reuters) – After weeks of violence in different parts of Israel and the West Bank, Israeli nationalists have targeted Palestinian colors of red, green, black and white in a growing “flag war” that underscores a struggle for status. and identity.

The conflict came to a head last week, when a bill banning the display of the Palestinian flag in state-funded institutions, including universities, passed a preliminary reading in Israel’s parliament.

For supporters of the bill, hoisting the Palestinian flag – which some Jewish Israelis say represents an “enemy” entity – is a provocation. For many Palestinians in Israel, the bill is an extension of what they see as Israeli attempts to erase their identity.

“Anyone who wants to live in the State of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, must respect its symbols,” said Eli Cohen, a lawmaker from the right-wing Likud party, who introduced the bill.

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“Those who want to be Palestinian can move to Gaza or Jordan,” he said.

Israel’s Arab minority is primarily drawn from Palestinians who lived under Ottoman and then British colonial rule, remaining in what became Israel when the country was established in 1948.

Making up around 21% of the population, they generally value Israeli citizenship because it offers them more benefits than stateless Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank or Gaza.

But many also identify as Palestinians – especially since Israel passed the nation-state law in 2018, which declares that only Jews have the right to self-determination between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Ahmad Tibi, an MK with the Joint List, a coalition of Arab parties, said the purpose of the bill was “to target Palestinian nationalism.”

The flag “represents the Palestinian people wherever they are,” he told Reuters.

Israeli law does not ban Palestinian flags, but police and soldiers have the right to remove them if they believe there is a threat to public order.

Last month, police attacked pallbearers at the funeral of prominent Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to rip the flag from the coffin in a packed event that came amid deep anger over her killing. .

Days later, tens of thousands of nationalists marched with Israeli flags outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, a predominantly Arab neighborhood of the Old City, in what many Palestinians saw as a blatant provocation and attack against their identity.

Suspicions between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel culminated last May in an 11-day war between Israel and the ruling Hamas faction in Gaza that saw violent incidents involving members of both communities across the country.

Ahead of last week’s vote, students held vigils at Israeli universities to commemorate what Arabs call the Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes or fled during the war of 1948 which accompanied the founding of Israel.

“By banning the flag, they are trying to erase us,” said Hetaf Alhzayel, 23, a Palestinian psychology student at Ben-Gurion University in southern Israel who attended the vigil.

(Reporting by Lara Afghani; Additional reporting and writing by Henriette Chacar; Editing by James Mackenzie and Angus MacSwan)

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