The year 1929 was a significant milestone in the development of Palestinian national identity. In August, a series of violent riots known in Palestinian collective memory as 'thawrat al-burak' erupted all over Palestine. The British forces were helpless in their attempts to defend Jewish neighborhoods and settlements, and their harsh measures to end the riots cost the lives of many Palestinians. In the bloodiest confrontations since the beginning of Zionist immigration at the end of the nineteenth century, 133 Jews and 116 Arabs lost their lives in one week. The aftermath of the riots, and mainly the British decision to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate events, created the impression that the destiny of Palestine was at stake and would be determined in the very near future.
In this atmosphere of tension and national awakening, in October 1929 an Arab citizen from Haifa named Kamel Yusuf Ghamashi sent a letter to the Arab Executive and asked its members to create a particular flag and anthem for Palestine: 'The Mandatory Government knows how to make the Arabs forget their most sacred national duties and how to dismantle their ranks and undermine their unity - and we do not have a flag to unify us like the Zionists'.
While there is no evidence that the AE itself ever discussed Ghamashi's suggestion, his call fell on receptive ears among the editorial board of the important Arab newspaper Filastin, published in Jaffa. On 20 October 1929, Filastin published on its front page a proposal to establish a Palestinian flag and anthem: "We are an ancient nation with a glorious history and a culture that generously contributed its share to the world's culture and civilization. And here, Allah has chastised us by the hands of Europe and tortured us by dividing us. Then, things have stabilized so that Palestine became a country in itself and the rest of the Arab states have turned to fight - first, every state for itself and only later for Arab unity. Yet, only the British flag was hoisted above Palestine. The Zionists came and they have a flag that still flutters. In light of this, we are asking, is it possible that one hundred thousand Jews have a need for 'unity' but eight hundred thousand Arabs do not have the same thing? Is it possible that only two flags will flutter in the sky of Palestine, both of which are foreign and uninvited? Is it possible that our sons will ask us about their citizenship and we will tell them that they are Arab Palestinians and call them to love Arab Palestine but we will not give them an emblem towards which they will look and will see their country in it?"
Following that, the author presented two proposals for a new Palestinian flag and a proposal for an anthem, and invited readers to send their reactions. Over the next several weeks readers from Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem, Acre, Nablus, Nazareth, Bethlehem and Gaza sent their reactions to the newspaper or directly to the AE. Filastin's proposals, its readers' reactions and their own proposals constitute a thrilling document that offers a glance into the collective self-image of a self-conscious elite trying to lead a national movement in its formative stage. The charged controversies over the desired relationship between Arab nationalism and Palestinian identity, the question of Palestinian distinctiveness, as well as the relations between Palestine's religious communities and emerging Palestinian nationalism - all received a colorful visual representation.
Still, what is most interesting about these proposals is the fact that they were not accepted, not at all on the institutional level and only occasionally on the popular level. The new emblems that were proposed by the newspaper's editor and his readers vanished from the collective consciousness of Palestinians as national emblems. This popular rejection, or at least indifference, to attempts to magnify Palestinian territorial distinctiveness on the symbolic level is puzzling. It calls for a comparative discussion that will juxtapose these proposals with two other flags that were officially and popularly accepted as national flags in temporal and spatial contiguity to Filastin's proposals. First I compare the 'Arab flag', namely the four-color flag of the 'Arab revolt' against the Ottomans, some of whose variants became the official flag of several Arab countries. This flag's use had spread relatively rapidly in Palestine only a decade earlier, even without central supportive institutions and in spite of inimical British rule. The second flag discussed is the Lebanese national flag that accentuates Lebanese distinctiveness by placing the Lebanese cedar at its center. These comparisons enable a discussion of the factors that limit or facilitate the ability of the elite to invent national symbols to be adopted by the masses.
Based on those comparisons, I argue that the new emblems offered by Filastin and its readers did not gain a place on the official Palestinian flag and disappeared from Palestinian collective memory because they did not fulfill even one of three important conditions: (a) hegemony of the groups whose interests the emblems reflected; (b) being raised at a time of sweeping change in the socio-political order, when the consciousness of the masses is more likely to adopt new symbols; and (c) a strong and profound basis in local tradition and the potential to be attached to an ancient past.

The significance of national flag

Therefore, the meaning of establishing a flag by a national movement is much more than a proclamation of identity. As a result of their standard qualities, the centrality of the flag in nationalist experience is essentially distinct, in comparison to symbols of religious community or voluntary organisation, for example. Religious communities and trade unions may but do not necessarily have to have flags, because there is no standard set of symbols that constitute the ideal type of religious community or trade union. A national community, however, must have a flag in order to comply with the standard set of symbols of the nation's ideal type.
Hence, the demand rising from Filastin's editorial to establish a particular Palestinian flag is actually a demand for a declaration of national independence in the symbolic realm. This is a significant stage in the process of the creation of Palestinian national identity.
Although a distinct Palestinian identity can be traced back at least to the middle of the nineteenth century, or even to the seventeenthcentury (Gerber 1998) it was not until after World War I that a broad range of optional political affiliations became relevant for the Arabs of Palestine.
During the short rule of Faysal the Hashemite in Damascus from October 1918 until July 1920, the possibility of being a part of a Greater Syria seemed to be the most promising option for the Palestinian elite. The evaporation of the Greater Syrian adventure with the French occupation of Damascus launched a process in which Arab Palestinians turned to articulate their political identity more and more in particularistic Palestinian terms. The riots of August 1929 and the harsh reactions of the British authorities strengthened this tendency and led to a surge of national awakening.
These tendencies of Palestinian particularism and supra-religious spirit were reflected in the public debate that surrounded the flag proposals. This debate exposes three central themes around which Palestinian national identity was shaped among Filastin's readers: (a) continuum with an ancient glorious past - represented by the four colors of the 'Arab flag'; (b) geographic distinctiveness of Palestine and a natural connection between the Palestinian people and its land - represented by a local crop, the orange; (c) Palestinian identity as a bridge between Muslims and Christians - represented by the 'Cross in the Crescent' emblem.
Four Arab colors - the construction of a glorious past

Filastin published two proposals for the Palestinian flag on 20 October 1929. The first included only the four colors of the Arab flag - white, black, green and red. They appear as four triangles that comprise a rectangle - each one of the triangles has a base that overlaps one of rectangles' ribs. The second proposal included a fifth color, orange. Both proposals were inspired by the original 'Arab flag', which includes three horizontal stripes in green, black and white, with a red triangle on the side. Modern national movements frequently cling to a 'golden age of communal splendour, with its sages, saints and heroes, the area in which the community achieved its classical form, and which bequeathed a legacy of glorious memories and cultural achievements'. In modern Arab nationalism, the Arab flag as a 'key symbol' has a major role in inducing the imagination of this glorious past.
However, the historical origins of the flag are a subject of controversy. It is widely accepted among Arab nationalists that 'The Literary Club' (al-Muntada al-'Arabi) that convened in Istanbul in 1909 and is considered by many as one of the first institutions of modern Arab nationalism, chose these four colors to symbolise the Arab nation. According to this version, the club's members were inspired by the words of the thirteenth century Arab poet Safi a-Din al-Hili: 'Our graces are white, our battles are black, our meadows are green and our swords are red.' While presenting its proposals, Filastin also mentioned this line of poetry to justify its choice of the four colors.
Another version dates the emergence of the Arab flag to the establishment of the Young Arab Society (al-Jamiyyat al-Arabiyya al-fatat) in Paris in 1911, an organisation founded by young Arab students that called for Arab independence. They chose green, black and white to represent the Arab nation. Each color, according to Arab mythology, served as a mono-color flag in a certain period of Arab historical independence: the Umayyad Empire (white), the Abbasid Empire (black) and the Fatimid Dynasty (green). In 1916, during the first year of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire in the Hejaz, the forces of Hussayn hoisted a red flag that symbolised his Sharifian tribe. Only after a year of fighting did they adopt the tricolor black-white-green flag of 'al-Fatat' and added a red triangle.
A totally different version claims that the flag was designed by Sir Mark Sykes of the British Foreign Office and was offered by him to Faysal at the end of the war. When Allenby's army was preparing to advance from Jerusalem to Damascus, among its banners was also the quadra-color Arab flag, made by the British military supply offices in Egypt (Fromkin 1990: 109). Yet other versions attribute the 'copyright' of the flag to the Ottoman Administrative Decentralisation Party (the Cairo-based Hizb al-Lamarkaziyya), the British War office, field commanders of the Arab revolt and the Syrian general congress.
Whatever its origins, the Arab flag was widely disseminated. On 10 June 1917, on the first anniversary of the revolt, the pro-Sharifian Meccan newspaper al-Qibla published an official announcement on the raising of the Arab flag, including the flag description. Following Faysal's entrance into Damascus, the spread of rumors about the legendary victory of the Arab revolt was accompanied by a similar spread of images of the Arab flag and the use of its colors throughout Greater Syria.
In the conference of the Muslim-Christian Association in Palestine that convened in Jerusalem on 5 March 1919, the Arab flag was hoisted alongside a banner with a crescent enclosing a cross - an emblem that was supposed to symbolise Muslim-Christian brotherhood.
Still, during the first years of the British occupation, Arab Palestinians were banned from hoisting the national Arab flag (while the Zionist flag was hoisted unhampered), under the pretext that it constituted the flag of a foreign state, the Hejazian state. It is possible to assume that this prohibition intensified the tendency with which activists in the national clubs and the Scouts associations established during the Mandatory period considered the Arab flag as a symbol of Arab Palestine.
The pre-embeddedness of the four Arab colors in Filastin's readers' consciousness is obviously reflected in the fact that all of those who sent their comments and proposals adopted these colors. Even readers who were critical of these colors only proposed supplements and did not call to eliminate even one of them. For example, the author Asma Tubi from Acre complained: 'Concerning the flag, I do not understand its meaning and I do not think that foreigners will understand from it anything but that by its four colors it symbolizes hope and peace and later despair and blood.'
Therefore, Tubi suggested adding the orange color and the 'Cross in the Crescent' emblem. Two weeks later the reader Hussni al-Mikdadi, agricultural engineer from Bethlehem, responded to Tubi's words that the colors symbolise blood and despair: 'The red color symbolizes war and inspires the nation to have the mental strength necessary to not give up its life and independence. The black color reminds us of our heroes who were killed and the sorrow of the people over them.' Besides that, he claimed, Palestine has spiritual and political relations with the other Arab states that the flag symbolises. Mikdadi suggested that Palestinians adopt an Arab flag with a 'Cross in the Crescent' emblem in the red triangle.
Another reader who was also reluctant to emphasise Palestinian distinctiveness sent a letter to the AE and expressed explicit objection to the color orange appearing on the flag, since it might blur the flag's similarity to the flags of the neighboring Arab countries thus ignoring the facts that 'the Arabs have one interest, in every place and in every time'. This reader, who signed as 'an Arab from Haifa', enclosed with his letter ten examples of a possible Palestinian flag, all of them based on different combinations of the four colors of the Arab flag and the Cross in the Crescent emblem.
Hamdi Can'an from Nablus also requested maintaining the symbolic similarity with the other Arab countries, and he proposed adopting the 'flag that was agreed upon at the convention in Damascus in Faysal's time: the Arab flag with three stars in the red triangle.'
Among all the diverse proposals, one is exceptional in its political orientation. Elias Hana Rantissi from Jaffa argued that the proposals published in Filastin were artistically inappropriate and suggested his own design: three vertical strips - green, white and black, and a full red circle in the middle. Rantissi admitted that his flag was similar to the Japanese flag, but he did not see it as a deficiency since Japan was, in his words, 'a great Eastern nation' and 'the pride of the East'.
To conclude, although the Palestinians who took part in the public discussion over the national flag differed in their level of aspiration of accentuating Palestinian singularity and their imagination of the future orientation of Palestine, they were unanimous in accepting that Palestine should express its belonging to the Arab world on its flag. The probable reasons for this consensus will be discussed later.

The orange - Palestinian identity as 'natural'

Whereas the proposal in Figure 1b reflects Palestinians' identity as Arabs, the second proposal of Filastin (Figure 1c) strives to signify their distinctiveness as Palestinians. In this design the newspaper suggested adding a fifth color to the four Arab colors, the color orange, which was supposed to represent the orange fruit, one of Palestine's most important exports. Most of the readers' reactions reflect agreement with the supplemental color. One of the readers, Munir Dakak from Jerusalem, even proposed drawing an orange on the flag. Where did the idea of representing the orange on the national flag stem from? This issue is related to the parallel development of both the orange orchards on the Palestinian coastal plain and the concept of nationalism in Palestine during the second half of the nineteenth century. From the middle of the nineteenth century, following the improvement of transportation methods and the stabilisation of political conditions, the Palestinian coastal plain underwent rapid urbanisation and economic change. This change was accompanied by more intensive contacts with European agents such as merchants, pilgrims, missionaries, tourists and settlers. A major by-product of this encounter was the import of Western ideas and ways of life, including the concept of the nation-state according to the nineteenth century European model. Before War World I, and especially after the Young Turk revolt in 1908, this influence was expressed mainly in demands for reforms in the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire toward a more citizenship oriented regime (Campos 2003).
With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the model of ethnic-organic nationalism, which demanded the overlapping of ethnic-cultural boundaries with political boundaries, became more popular. Simultaneously, the Palestinian coastal areas witnessed an accelerated development of the orchard economy, following the discovery of the economic benefits of marketing the fruit overseas. Palestine's orchards and their harvests became a major export branch: already by 1911, Jaffa's citrus industry was shipping 870,000 cases of oranges abroad, which accounted for almost one-third of the port's export income.
The oranges were famous abroad and gradually grew to be part of the external image of the country. This external image eventually became a collective self-image. Hence, when the Palestinian coastal elite in 1929 requested to choose a symbol that represented the idea of a Palestinian nation-state and emphasized Palestinian singularity, the idea of Palestine as the orange country was almost self-evident. It is very likely, however that this choice reflected to a large extent the world-view of the elite of the coast where the orange orchards grew and supplied the income of many families, and not a general Palestinian vision.
Therefore, it is likely that among the inhabitants of the mountainous region of Palestine, this choice was less self-evident. The orange was not the only crop that was suggested for the flag. In one of the proposals sent by As'ad Shufani from Nazareth, he added two other examples of typical Palestinian crops more common in the Galilee, where he was from - an olive branch and a wheat spike.
The attempt to link a collective self-image with a crop is a sub-genre of a common phenomenon among modern nationalist movements - the extensive use of botanic and agricultural metaphors to describe the nation. Such a discourse presents the relations between national identity and territory as part of the natural order of the world. Nevertheless, a concrete representation of the local plants and wild animals of the country is not so common on national flags. It is not coincidental that most of the countries that have chosen this option are former colonies. The creation of political symbols was an important element in the construction of national consciousness in the course of anti-colonial struggles.
In this context, the choice of a local plant or a typical crop contains elements of defiance against the alien by means of emphasising the direct and unmediated relations of the natives to their territory. For example, Haiti has a palm tree on its flag, Mexico has a cactus and Belize placed a mahogany tree on its flag. Among Arab and Emblems on the Palestinian flag Muslim countries only Lebanon chose to put a typical plant on its flag - the Lebanese cedar that served as a Maronite symbol during the Ottoman period.
The drive to emphasise nativity also stands behind the proposed representation of the orange on the Palestinian flag. The subtext of the color orange is: the Palestinian people, like the orange, grew naturally from the Palestinian terrain. The use of the orange as a collective representation enables Palestinians to present a 'natural' distinction from the neighboring Arab countries and a contrast to the 'artificial' Zionist movement that claimed sovereignty on Palestinian land even though it did not grow from it.
The choice of the orange signifies not only the existence of Palestine as a separate political unit, but also the qualitative difference between Palestinian identity and Arab identity in terms of the concept of territory. Although modern Arab nationalism was rooted in a geographic region loosely identified as the 'Arab world', the territorial component of this identity has always been marginal compared to the centrality of language and culture. In contrast, Palestinian identity by definition is a territorial identity.
This fundamental distinction leads to another distinction regarding the level of exclusivity of the constructed boundaries of the two identities. The boundaries of Arab identity have not been open and inviting like the boundaries of Muslim identity, and like every national identity it has never aspired to include all humankind. Nevertheless, the boundaries of Arab identity still maintained a certain level of diffusability and allowed a certain tolerance for the Arabisation of groups and peoples.
This stands in contrast to territorial identities like Palestinian national identity, which are based on a much more rigid code of inclusion. Among Filastin's readership at the end of the 1920s, we witness the beginning of a process in which the sanctification of land and territory became a major element in Palestinian national identity - and that, even two decades before the forced exile of 1948. The mapping of Mandatory Palestine as a political unit with defined and rigid borders accelerated the growth of a distinct national consciousness, a process that serves as a classic example of Anderson's argument about the central importance of cartography for the ability to imagine the nation - even if this map was drawn by a hateful colonialist superpower. Since Palestinian Arabs did not have a language distinct from their Arab neighbors, and because the regional cultural differences among Palestinians were no less than the differences between Palestinians and other Arabs from Greater Syria, the connection to territory became the central pillar of the crystallisation of Palestinian identity.

The 'Cross in the Crescent' - Muslim-Christian brotherhood

About half of the readers' proposals published in Filastin or sent to the AE included a certain combination of Muslim and Christian religious emblems, most frequently a crescent and a cross, that were supposed to symbolise the partnership and common fate of Muslims and Christians in Palestine. At first glance, this phenomenon is not surprising since the appearance of concrete religious symbols on national flags is a common phenomenon. A cross is featured on the flags of most European Protestant countries, remnant of the parallel development of territorial nationalism and the establishment of independent religious authorities separate from the Catholic Church. Likewise, a crescent appears on the flags of many Muslim countries from Tunisia to Malaysia, and the Israeli flag features a Star of David. Still, a national flag that combines emblems of two different religions constitutes an innovation.
Readers' proposals were inspired by the singular Palestinian experience in which an external threat (from the Zionist movement) produced an ad hoc pact between two communities who had shared many tensions in the past.
The birth of the Palestinian national movement is related to the essential rapprochement that occurred between Muslims and Christians in the country in the aftermath of the Balfour Declaration and its threatening implications Emblems on the Palestinian flag for Palestinians. The Muslim-Christian associations that proliferated all over the country beginning in the fall of 1918 constituted the main organizational infrastructure of the Arab Palestinian national movement during the 1920s. This movement adopted the 'Cross in the Crescent' emblem, similar to one used previously by the mixed Muslim-Christian brigades established at the end of the nineteenth century in the Ottoman army. In the same way that Muslim-Christian rapprochement was partly motivated by the Zionist menace, it is plausible that those who decided to adopt the Cross in the Crescent were inspired by the centrality of a Jewish religious emblem, the Star of David, on the Zionist flag.
It is worth mentioning, though, that unlike many readers' proposals, the editorial proposals of Filastin did not include religious symbols at all, and the same is true for the words of the proposed anthem that appeared alongside the flags. Filastin suggested adopting the anthem of the Palestinian Scouts that did not mention the words 'Muslim' or 'Christian', but rather included only a general assertion that Palestinian brotherhood crossed religious affiliations: 'whatever the religious differences between us or differences in age, the brotherhood unites us with God's (help) - oh, homeland'.
These are not merely semantic distinctions. There is an essential difference between the perception of Palestinian identity as an alliance between two religious communities, as reflected in the proposals that included a cross and a crescent, and the assertion of a homogeneous collective entity, indifferent to the religious affiliations of its members - an approach reflected in Filastin's editorial proposals. This distinction was well expressed later by Muhammad' Izzat Darawza, the founder and leader of the secularist Istiklal party, who in 1931 successfully proposed changing the official name of the Muslim-Christian Association to the Arab National Association.
In contrast to the flags suggested by Filastin's editors, many of its readers chose to emphasise the fraternity of the two religious communities. The very decision to accentuate these distinctive religious identities on the flag testifies to the extent that the category of religion was significant for those readers, and to their vision of the developing Palestinian identity as a 'welding' of two communities more than a 'melting' into one entity.


While viewing these spectacular and colorful flag proposals, one thing should be kept in mind - not a single one of them was adopted by the Palestinian political leadership, and it is unknown if they ever were discussed seriously by the AE.
This might be due to circumstantial reasons: the inimical attitude of Filastin to the AE and to the Husayni family's leadership at that time, and the identification of 'Isa al-'Isa with the Nashashibi family in opposition. Still, this account fails to deal with the lack of popular enthusiasm beyond Filastin's audience for adopting the new symbols. Eventually, the Palestinian people would enthusiastically adopt  the 'Arab flag' raised by the Hashemites even though the Arab rebellion (of the Sherifian tribe) against the Ottomans took place in the Hejaz and not in Palestine, and the Palestinians were not an integral part of this fight. The colorful flag proposals would vanish into thin air.


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The orange and the 'Cross in the Crescent':
Imagining Palestine in 1929
Tamir Sorek