Israeli, Palestinian Flags Flying in Divided Belfast

BELFAST (Reuters) -
The flag of Cuba flies in the Nationalist Bogside area of Londonderry. Republicans have strong links with Cuba which culminated in Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams meeting with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.  (REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)
The flag of Cuba flies in the Nationalist Bogside area of Londonderry. Republicans have strong links with Cuba which culminated in Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams meeting with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. (REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)
A flag comprised of various elements including the Ulster Banner and the Star of David flies on the interface of Twaddell avenue and Nationalist Ardoyne in North Belfast. (REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)
A flag comprised of various elements including the Ulster Banner and the Star of David flies on the interface of Twaddell avenue and Nationalist Ardoyne in North Belfast. (REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)

In Northern Ireland, the flags of Israel and the Palestinians are potent symbols of conflict — but here they divide Catholics and Protestants rather than Jews and Muslims.

In the complex web of alliances that underpins the British province’s flag-obsessed politics, the Star of David has been adopted by pro-British Loyalists, mainly Protestants, many of whom sympathize with Israel.

Flying the green, black, red and white flag of the Palestinian territories, meanwhile, is a sign of support for Catholic Irish Republicans and their aspiration for a united Ireland against what they see as British occupation.

The flags are among dozens that have been adopted by the working class Catholic and Protestant areas that have for decades been at the focus of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland to fly alongside the ubiquitous British and Irish flags.

“I’ve been in plenty of conflict zones, but I have never seen such an intense use of flags to mark territories,” said Peter Shirlow, a professor of conflict resolution at Queen’s University Belfast.

The official state flag, the Union Jack, is itself divisive, signifying not just loyalty to the British crown, but for some Republicans, hostility to Irish Catholics.

The flag issue is so potent that raising or taking one down has been enough to spark riots or protests, as happened in December 2012, when Belfast city council decided to restrict the flying of the Union Jack above city hall.

Occasionally Republicans fly the stars and stripes because Irish Americans were among their most loyal supporters during the Troubles.

But they also fly the flag of Washington’s enemy Cuba, with left-leaning nationalist groups paying tribute to revolutionary heroes Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.