Flag of Israel

Was adopted on October 28, 1948, five months after the establishment of the State of Israel

Education in Israel - Flags dance.
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The flag of Israel  depicts a blue hexagram on a white background, between two horizontal blue stripes.

The blue colour is described as «dark sky-blue», and varies from flag to flag, ranging from a hue of pure blue, sometimes shaded almost as dark as navy blue, to hues about 75% toward pure cyan and shades as light as very light blue. The flag was designed for the Zionist Movement in 1891. The basic design recalls the Tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl, which is white with black or blue stripes. The symbol in the center represents the Star of David («Magen David»), a Jewish symbol dating from late medieval Prague, which was adopted by the First Zionist Congress in 1897.

Modern photo showing the flag of Israel
pinterest button Modern photo showing the flag of Israel FlickreviewR, CC BY 2.0

In 2007, an Israeli flag measuring 660 m × 100 m (2,170 ft × 330 ft) and weighing 5.2 tonnes (5.7 short tons) was unfurled near the ancient Jewish fortress of Masada, breaking the world record for the largest flag.

Origin of the flag

The blue stripes are intended to symbolize the stripes on a tallit, the traditional Jewish prayer shawl. The portrayal of a Star of David on the flag of the State of Israel is a widely acknowledged symbol of the Jewish people and of Judaism.

1949 Israeli postal stamp depicting the flag of Israel
pinterest button 1949 Israeli postal stamp depicting the flag of Israel Designer: P. Kraus, Public Domain

The Israelites used a blue colored dye called tekhelet; this dye may have been made from the marine snail Murex trunculus. This dye was very important in both Jewish and non-Jewish cultures of this time, and was used by royalty and the upper class in dyeing their clothing, sheets, curtains, etc. (The dye from a related snail can be processed to form Tyrian purple called argaman.)

Education in Israel - Flags dance.
pinterest button Education in Israel — Flags dance. אושרי כהן, CC BY 2.5

In the Bible, the Israelites are commanded to have one of the threads of their tassels (tzitzit) dyed with tekhelet; «so that they may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them (Num 15:39).» Tekhelet corresponds to the colour of the divine revelation (Midrash Numbers Rabbah xv.). Sometime near the end of the Talmudic era (500–600 CE) the industry that produced this dye collapsed.

It became more rare; over time, the Jewish community lost the tradition of which species of shellfish produced this dye. Since Jews were then unable to fulfil this commandment, they have since left their tzitzit (tallit strings) white. However, in remembrance of the commandment to use the tekhelet dye, it became common for Jews to have blue or purple stripes woven into the cloth of their tallit.

The idea that the blue and white colours were the national colour of the Jewish people was voiced early on by Ludwig August Frankl (1810–1894), an Austrian Jewish poet. In his poem, «Judah's Colours», he writes:

In 1885, the agricultural village of Rishon LeZion used a blue and white flag designed by Israel Belkind and Fanny Abramovitch in a procession marking its third anniversary. In 1891, Michael Halperin, one of the founders of the agricultural village Nachalat Reuven flew a similar blue and white flag with a blue hexagram and the letters «נס ציונה» (Nes Ziona, «a banner for Zion»: a reference to Jeremiah 4:6, later adopted as the modern name of the city).

Israeli naval flag
pinterest button Israeli naval flag Drawn by Makaristos, based on a previous version by Denelson83, Public Domain

A blue and white flag, with a Star of David and the Hebrew word «Maccabee», was used in 1891 by the Bnai Zion Educational Society. Jacob Baruch Askowith (1844–1908) and his son Charles Askowith designed the «flag of Judah,» which was displayed on July 24, 1891, at the dedication of Zion Hall of the B'nai Zion Educational Society in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. Based on the traditional tallit, or Jewish prayer shawl, that flag was white with narrow blue stripes near the edges and bore in the center the ancient six-pointed Shield of David with the word «Maccabee» in gilt letters.

Israeli merchant marine flag
pinterest button Israeli merchant marine flag Denelson83, CC BY-SA 3.0

In Herzl's 1896 Der Judenstaat, he stated:

David Wolffsohn (1856–1914), a businessman prominent in the early Zionist movement, was aware that the nascent Zionist movement had no official flag, and that the design proposed by Theodor Herzl was gaining no significant support, wrote:

While this flag emphasizes Jewish religious symbols, Theodor Herzl wanted the flag to have more universal symbols: 7 golden stars symbolizing the 7-hour working quota of the enlightened state-to-be, which would have advanced socialist legislations.

In 1897, the First Zionist Congress was held in Basel, Switzerland, to consider re-establishing a homeland for Jews in Palestine. Morris Harris, a member of New York Hovevei Zion, used his awning shop to design a suitable banner and decorations for the reception, and his mother Lena Harris sewed the flag.

Herzl's proposed flag, as sketched in his diaries. Although he drew a Star of David, he did not describe it as such.
pinterest button Herzl's proposed flag, as sketched in his diaries. Although he drew a Star of David, he did not describe it as such. Theodore Herzl, CC BY-SA 3.0

The flag was made with two blue stripes and a large blue Star of David in the center, the colours blue and white chosen from the design of the tallit. The flag was ten feet by six feet—in the same proportions as the flag of the United States—and became known as the Flag of Zion. It was accepted as the official Zionist flag at the Second Zionist Congress held in Switzerland in 1898, and the State of Israel later adopted the design as the official flag, upon declaration of Israel as an independent state in 1948.

Insignia of Jewish Brigade
pinterest button Insignia of Jewish Brigade GJo, CC BY-SA 3.0

A flag with blue and white stripes and a Magen David in the center flew with those of other nationalities from one of the buildings at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. It flew there in relation to large meetings of Zionists. That expo was the World's Fair hosting the 1904 Summer Olympics.

Interpretation of colours

Main article: Blue in Judaism

SchemeTextile color
WhiteChesed (Divine Benevolence)
BlueIt symbolizes God's Glory, purity and Gevurah (God's severity)
A traditional tallit with the blue stripes. Western Wall, Jerusalem.
pinterest button A traditional tallit with the blue stripes. Western Wall, Jerusalem. Fruggo, CC BY 2.0

Criticism

From Israeli Arabs

Some Israeli Arab politicians, as well as the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel have requested a re-evaluation of the Israeli flag, arguing that the Star of David at the flag's centre is an exclusively Jewish symbol.

From Orthodox Jews

The Hasidim in particular were vociferous in their opposition to early Zionism and often protested against the Zionists. They even went as far as banning the Star of David, originally a religious symbol appearing only in the synagogue, which had now become «defiled» by the Zionists. Rabbi Moses Feinstein called the Israeli flag «a foolish and meaningless object» and discouraged its display in synagogues.

The raising of the Ink Flag (1949)
pinterest button The raising of the Ink Flag (1949) The ink-drawn national flag of Israel flies at Um Rashrash (now Eilat) across the Gulf of Aqaba on the northern tip of the Red Sea., CC BY-SA 3.0

The Chazon Ish wrote that praying in a synagogue decorated with an Israeli flag should be avoided even if there was no other synagogue in the area. Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef, also forbade the flying of the Israeli flag in synagogues, calling it «a reminder of the acts of the evil-doers.» Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum referred to the flag as the «flag of heresy» and viewed it as an object of idol worship. Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel never display the Israeli flag and there are some fringe groups who resort to burning it on Israel’s independence day.

«Nile to Euphrates» conspiracy

Main article: Greater Israel

It is a popular conspiracy in the Arab World that the blue stripes on the Israeli flag actually represent the rivers Nile and Euphrates as the boundaries of Eretz Yisra'el, the land promised to the Jews by God according to the Bible. Those making this allegation insist that the flag «secretly» represents the desire of Jews to conquer all of the land between the Nile and Euphrates rivers, which would involve conquering and ruling over much of Egypt, all of Jordan, most of Syria, and part of Iraq. Yasser Arafat, Iran and Hamas also made the allegation, and repeatedly tied this notion to the stripes on the Israeli flag.

Insignia of Jewish Brigade
pinterest button Insignia of Jewish Brigade GJo, CC BY-SA 3.0

Both Zionist and anti-Zionist authors have debunked the claim that the stripes on the flag represent territorial ambitions. Daniel Pipes notes «In fact, the blue lines derive from the design on the traditional Jewish prayer shawl», and Danny Rubinstein points out that «Arafat ... added, in interviews that he gave in the past, that the two blue stripes on the Israeli flag represent the Nile and the Euphrates ... No Israeli, even those who demonstrate understanding for Palestinian distress, will accept the ... nonsense about the blue stripes on the flag, which was designed according to the colours of the traditional tallit (prayer shawl)». Persistent critic of Israel and Zionism Israel Shahak is equally explicit. In his The Zionist Plan for the Middle East he states:

Saqr Abu Fakhr, an Arab writer, has also spoken out against this idea. He writes that the «Nile to Euphrates» claim regarding the flag is one of seven popular misconceptions and/or myths about Jews which, despite being unfounded and having abundant evidence refuting them, continue to circulate in the Arab world.

SVG version of the Israeli Air Force Flag
pinterest button SVG version of the Israeli Air Force Flag Oren neu dag, GNU 1.2

Nevertheless, the Hamas Covenant states «After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates,» and as recently as January 29, 2006, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar issued a demand for Israel to change its flag, citing the «Nile to Euphrates» argument.

Reference in the Nuremberg Laws

Paragraph 4 in «The Laws for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour», part of the infamous Nazi Nuremberg Laws of 1935, states that 1. «Jews are forbidden to display the Reich and national flag or the national colours. 2.

On the other hand, they are permitted to display the Jewish colours. The exercise of this right is protected by the State.» Paragraph 5.3 described the penalty for infringing «1»: up to one year's imprisonment plus fine, or one of these. The «Jewish colours» referred to in this article were blue and white.

Famous Israeli flags

  • The «Ink Flag» of 1949, which was raised during the War of Independence near present-day Eilat. This homemade flag's raising on a pole by several Israeli soldiers was immortalized in a photograph that has been compared with the famous photograph of the United States Flag being raised atop Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima in 1944. Like the latter photograph, the Ink Flag raising has also been reproduced as a memorial.
  • The Israeli flag that stayed flying throughout the siege of Fort Budapest during the Yom Kippur War, which is currently preserved in the Israeli Armored Corps memorial at Latrun. Fort Budapest was the only strongpoint along the vaunted Bar-Lev Line to remain in Israeli hands during the war.
  • The 2007 World Record Flag, which was unveiled at an airfield near the historic mountain fortress of Masada. The flag, manufactured in the Philippines, measured 660 x 100 metres (2,165 x 330 feet) and weighed 5.2 metric tonnes, breaking the previous record, measured and verified by representatives for the Guinness Book of Records. It was made by Filipino entrepreneur and Evangelical Christian Grace Galindez-Gupana as a religious token and diplomatic gesture of support for Israel.

Useful Information

The Flag of Israel
Hebrew: דגל ישראל
translit. Degel Yisra'el
Arabic: علم إسرائيل
translit. Alam Isra'īl

Reference in the Nuremberg Laws

Paragraph 4 in "The Laws for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour", part of the infamous Nazi Nuremberg Laws of 1935, states that 1. "Jews are forbidden to display the Reich and national flag or the [German] national colours. 2. On the other hand, they are permitted to display the Jewish colours. The exercise of this right is protected by the State." Paragraph 5.3 described the penalty for infringing "1": up to one year's imprisonment plus fine, or one of these. The "Jewish colours" referred to in this article were blue and white.

Israeli Flag Incidents

  • On 21 August 2011, an Egyptian carpenter named Ahmed al-Shahat scaled the 21-story high building in Cairo that housed the Israeli Embassy and took down the Israeli Flag, replacing it with the Egyptian flag (much to the delight of several hundred Egyptian demonstrators, who burned the Embassy Flag when the carpenter brought it down with him).

Famous Israeli Flags

  • The Israeli Flag that stayed flying throughout the siege of Fort Budapest during the Yom Kippur War, which is currently preserved in the Israeli Armored Corps memorial at Latrun. Fort Budapest was the only strongpoint along the vaunted Bar-Lev Line to remain in Israeli hands during the war.
  • The "Ink Flag" of 1948, which was raised during the War of Independence near present-day Eilat. This homemade flag's raising on a pole by several Israeli soldiers was immortalized in a photograph that has been compared with the famous photograph of the United States Flag being raised on the island of Iwo Jima in 1944. Like the latter photograph, the Ink Flag raising has also been reproduced as a memorial.
  • The 2007 World Record Flag. The flag measures 660 meters (2,165 feet) long and 100 meters (330 feet) wide and weighs 5.2 metric tons, breaking the previous record for the world's largest flag, measured and verified by representatives for the Guinness Book of Records. It was made by Filipino entrepreneur and evangelical Christian Grace Galindez-Gupana as a token of support for Israel. The flag was unveiled at the airfield near the historic mountain fortress of Masada.