Voices: What does flag at UN mean to Palestinians?

Al Jazeera speaks to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip about what the flag-raising at the UN means to them.

Palestinians wave Palestinian flags as they watch on a large screen the speech of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas near Damascus Gate, outside Jerusalem''s Old City
Palestinians have gathered in occupied East Jerusalem to watch PA President Mahmoud Abbas [Reuters]

The Palestinian flag has been raised at the United Nations for the first time in history. 

Diplomats and press crowded into the rose garden at the UN on Wednesday to watch the ceremony.

The move has roused the support of many who viewed it as an historic step, while it provoked bitter criticism from Israel. 

Meanwhile, celebrations were held in the occupied Palestinian territory. 

Speaking to the crowd, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, dedicated the flag-raising to “the martyrs, the prisoners and the wounded, and to those who gave their lives while trying to raise this flag”.

Al Jazeera spoke with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip to ask them what the flag-raising meant to them. 

Nasser Abu Saad, 42, Johr al-Dik village, Gaza, farmer


[Creede Newton/Al Jazeera]
[Creede Newton/Al Jazeera]

When my house was attacked by the Israelis in 2010, I immediately called a friend in the Palestinian Authority to ask permission for an ambulance to enter Gaza for my wife. Within 10 minutes, my friend called me back and told me that Abu Mazen’s office said they had “nothing to do” with the Gaza Strip. My wife died. I think this shows the attitude Abu Mazen has towards the victims of Gaza. My house was bombed in 2010 and 2011, and then finally destroyed in 2014. I lost my home and my wife. Where is the support?

But still, I was happy when the flag was raised, and I call on Abu Mazen to do more for the victims of Gaza. We need to be united. If Abu Mazen represents us at the UN, then he should turn his eyes to our situation. He should listen to us, and help us. The division between Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is helping no one.

Islam Shaheen, 24, occupied East Jerusalem, architect

[Mohannad Darabee/Al Jazeera]
[Mohannad Darabee/Al Jazeera]

It means nothing to me. It reasserts the Oslo Accords, and it reasserts Israel’s ‘right’ to be allowed to put the wall. It gives Israel more jurisdiction rather than it takes away from it.

It gives [Israel] more legitimacy as an occupying state more than it imposes its obligations on it. So we are placing an imaginary state in front of the world as Israel uses this fact by saying: “Here is a state which we have nothing to do with.”

Tamara Aburamadan, 19, Gaza City, law student at Al-Azhar University

[Creede Newton/Al Jazeera]
[Creede Newton/Al Jazeera]

Raising the flag is a sign of hope for Palestinians, and a brave move for [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] to say that we are not bound to any agreement with the Israelis that says we aren’t a state under occupation.

I think the idea of [Palestine] being recognised as a victim is one step towards victory. Raising the flag is a way to say that we exist. Even though Palestine is an observer state, it has rights, and its people are fighting for their rights. But they don’t want their acts to be judged as crimes. All states under occupation have the right to defend themselves – and to fight – under international law.

Many Palestinians see it as a big move to raise the flag, but I don’t see it that way. I think it’s a very tiny step
in a very long ladder that will lead us to our goal: freedom. It’s better to take small steps than to stay in the same place.

Sameer Awad, 50, Ramallah, West Bank, political science professor at Birzeit University

[Mohannad Darabee/Al Jazeera]
[Mohannad Darabee/Al Jazeera]

The raising of the flag at the UN from a position of principle means the recognition in symbols that are important to our people. I studied in New York, and throughout all the years that I was there, I used to pass through the UN and see the flags of all states except ours.

It is important that our flag is raised like the rest of the flags, and it is important to me that Palestine, with time, pursues goals bringing it closer to becoming a member state in the United Nations. I do not see that the raising of the flag is only symbolic; rather I see that [the flag] is covered with the blood of martyrs. I know many people that have died raising the flag.

Thus it is important to me, from a general perspective, that the Palestinian flag is raised like other flags bringing us closer and closer to the concept of a state which we generally perceive as our goal. However, I do not think that the raising of the flag itself is very important unless it is followed with the struggle of the Palestinian people, making it our goal to create an independent Palestinian state.

Umm Muhammad, 49, Nuseirat refugee camp, Gaza, unemployed mother

[Creede Newton/Al Jazeera]
[Creede Newton/Al Jazeera]

Do I think the solution to our problem is raising a flag? No. The flag won’t bring money, it won’t bring work, it won’t stop the bombing, and it won’t bring us our rights. The flag is only diplomatic, and Palestinians have been playing diplomatic games for years.

What has happened? More land lost, more wars, and more people killed. Our economic situation is horrible. My son worked in a granite factory for 10 hours a day, and would only bring home [$100] a month. He’s only 17, he dropped out of school and lifted heavy granite every day for almost no money. This is the situation we live in.

At the same time, it’s good to be recognised. Maybe we will raise our flag every year in commemoration of this event.

Dalia Khashan, 23, Ramallah, West Bank, law student at Birzeit University

[Mohannad Darabee/Al Jazeera]
[Mohannad Darabee/Al Jazeera]

To me, the raising of the flag is a big step, and it was preceded by a big step in the recognition of the state of Palestine. This will achieve important goals later on. This is a symbolic act for every Palestinian individual. Not only those that are in Palestine but those outside as well, whose ambitions and dreams were to see the Palestinian flag raised in important institutions such as the United Nations.

This step is important even for our children to see their flag. This reaffirms their belonging and existence, that they are here. It also reaffirms their right for their cause, for the Palestinian cause. The child [will] become aware of their cause and such.

Source: Al Jazeera