All my life, the flag of Palestine has been ingrained deeply into my brain. From news reports that my father used to consume incessantly to the many protests I attended as a child, the bold colours of the flag are instantly recognisable to me. Recently, however, have I started to question the Palestinian flag. How is it that an unrecognised state, supposedly a state of non-people, has been able to identify itself with a national flag?
I could make this post into a diatribe on why flags should be obsolete, but I will focus on the one that is supposed to be most important to me. Personally, I find the flag repulsive. Everything from the harsh colours to the simplicity and lack of Palestinian identity makes me think: why this flag? Now, in order to justify my hate towards the blocks of colour that represent a nation, I took it upon myself to research its origins so as to have a legitimate reason to express my distaste towards it. And oh how I was rewarded.
The majority of Arabian flags, those that contain the colours black, green, red and white, are based on the flag of the Arab Revolt (1916–1918). For all those who believe in the beauty and meaning of the Palestinian flag, or in other similar Middle Eastern flags, they can owe their gratitude to Sir Mark Sykes for it was he who designed and produced the fag of the Arab Revolt. The same man who was undoubtedly instrumental in aiding the creation of the state of Israel on Palestinian land.
Sir Mark Sykes is infamous for his part in the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain, France and Russia (The Triple Entente) that determined their intended spheres of influence in the Middle East, should the Ottoman Empire be defeated in the First World War. The agreement led to France’s control over Syria, the formation of the Arab states and ultimately the creation of the state of Israel.
So what does Sykes have to do with the flag? During the First World War, the Triple Entente was up against the Central Powers, which included the Ottoman Empire. Now the British, not having enough influence in the countries surrounding the Ottoman Empire, sought to establish some sort of revolt to aid them in defeating one of the key players in the Central Powers. Sykes, then a diplomat, established a relationship with the Emir of Makkah, Hussein bin Ali. With the promise of an Arab state free of outside influence, whether Western or Ottoman, the Emir was persuaded to lead the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans. Sykes, seeking to establish a feeling of Arabness, a sense of nationality, took it upon himself to design the Flag of the Arab Revolt. Using the colours of previous Arabian caliphates, the production of flags by the British Army in Cairo began. And the only input any Arab had in the design was the Emir, who expressed his distaste towards the shade of red used.
Sure, some might argue that the Palestinian flag’s origins are now irrelevant, as the flag was adopted by the Palestinian struggle and has come to represent it. Of course, people use it as a sign of solidarity with the Palestinian effort in a true an honest manner, but surely a Palestinian, or any Middle Eastern identity, should be established free of all Western intervention? This should also apply to borders and constitutions, which the Western powers have influenced not only in the Middle East, but also worldwide.
An established identity and a solid cultural origin are vital in order to be effective in attaining Palestinian rights. Whether this means a respected constitution, true economic independence or a secure social order, we need to work stronger together. Whatever the political or social ideology, religious or racial background, we cannot work independently to attain a free Palestine. Furthermore, I believe an elevated sense of nationalism does not help. We must seek to clear corruption in the Middle Eastern conflicts, mainly from the West but also from Middle Eastern governments. Nationalism only serves a sense of selfish pride and visceral divisions.
No composition of colour and shapes will help unless it was subliminally controlling, which in any case would be immoral to use anyway. So next time you decide to hoist a flag in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, remember that it was Sir Mark Sykes who created it in order to advance the occupation. The flag of Palestine is a paradox. You might as well hoist up the flag of Mandatory Palestine, because unlike Israel it was not formed from the ideals of Mark Sykes.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.