What’s That Flag?

Photo by K Knight. A lamp post in the north of England.

What have UK Christians got in common with UEFA and the International Olympic Committee? The Palestinian flag is increasingly visible in Britain today: whether on the football pitch, in news coverage of public protests, or simply in the possession of a local neighbour. Why is this? And how might it also affect you?

The complex issues of identity and religion, influence and ignorance are as old as the hills, yet they repeatedly find fresh expression in a new audience and context. Living online has become an international phenomenon by necessity during Covid lockdowns – overcoming some divisions but exacerbating others.

Recent mosque sermons, easily available on social media, have addressed the subject of Palestine, as violent events in Jerusalem escalated across the region. In Islam, Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site, believed to be the location of the Muslim Prophet’s Night Journey of Qur’an 17:1. One popular preacher, with hundreds of thousands of viewers, urged all Muslims around the world to support their brothers in defending the mosque from Israeli forces and from “illegal evacuation of the Palestinians”. Citing the 178 injured and 88 hospitalised worshippers when the mosque was stormed on the final Friday prayers of Ramadan 2021, listeners heard of the rubber bullets, tear gas and bomb shells used and were invited to pray that Allah “will teach the enemies of Islam a lesson”.

A contrasting Eid message from Cambridge, which to date has reached an audience of nearly 180,000, also implored a response, but “not [of] vengefulness, not of exclusion against another exclusion.” It highlighted the terrible financial inequalities in the world; teaching, “the Sunnah position is that the poor come first; give, give, give”. Recalling the pleasure of his personal visit to Al-Aqsa, the preacher revelled in “the glory of that place that comes as a crown to the city”; and looked forward to a day when the Holy Land would be free – “Jew, Christian, Muslim, equal – able to live wherever they wish, no discrimination”.

The connection, for our Muslim neighbours, with the people and the place is clear and present. They then have to consider how to respond to the calls to support and give; perhaps by waving a Palestinian flag. At first, this might appear an unfamiliar response to UK Christians, but is it?

I wonder how many people in the UK would be able to locate Israel on a map; yet British society’s awareness is nurtured through annual traditions such as nativity plays, and for Christians, it is the setting of most of the Bible. There are Zionist theological positions which foster Christian support for the current Jewish citizens of Israel; and historic atrocities which inspire Christian sympathy for the Jews. To what extent would your life be perceived by some to be flying an Israeli flag?  Christian support for Palestinians is also evident, for example in the liturgy of Christian Aid’s ‘World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel vigil’ or organisations like Sebeel – Kairos; often these differing Christian perspectives reflect a level of association with evangelicalism.

So ‘What’s that flag’ mean to you? Does the sight of someone with a Palestinian flag attract or alienate you? Is your reaction a gospel bridge or barrier? God directed Samuel to look beyond the outward appearance, to the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Jesus the anointed Messiah is calling people into His spiritual Kingdom; into His family from every tongue, tribe and nation.  Do your actions raise a banner which says to others ‘Thy Kingdom come’?