My son Ben likes American flags.  Whenever he sees one flying he says, with gusto, “look!  an American flag!”  I’m not sure how this started — but I do remember that we were driving back from the beach in Wilmington, and we stopped at a gas station with a HUGE American flag.  We pointed it out to Ben and he was hooked.

So this morning, while eating breakfast, he looked over at my tea mug and saw this:

And he asked whether the flag on top of the building was an American flag.  Once I figured out what he was talking about, I said I thought it was an American flag, since Chicago, the city on the mug, is an American city.

Ben asked why, and I explained that cities fly the flag of the country where they are located.  Chicago is in the US, so it’s probably an American flag.

Observant lad that he is, he looked down at the placemat:

And he started asking about other cities in the world.  Let’s zoom in a bit so you can see what he asked about — he asked about Reykjavik, and I told him the flag would be Iceland, Oslo (Norway), the Leaning tower of Pisa (Italy), Moscow (Russia).  And then he asked about Jerusalem…

Now I wasn’t about to get into a Middle East discussion with a three-year old… so I said “Israel,” and then we went on to Baghdad (which is also not as straightforward as it might appear — did Iraq change its flag after the 2003 invasion deposed Saddam Hussein?  Yes it did — twice, actually, according to this Wikipedia article about the Iraqi flag)

But what do you say about Jerusalem? 

Here’s a nice sentiment (and a picture of each flag for those unfamiliar with them — Israeli flag is on the left, Palestinian flag is on the right — it would be nice if they could find some way to live together peacefully)

Militarily and politically, Israel is in control of the city today, but I’m sure there are Palestinian flags flying in the city of Jerusalem, and people living in the West Bank (and Gaza strip, and other areas in the Arab world) would say that Jerusalem should belong to the Palestinians.  The 1947 U.N. partition plan called for the city of Jerusalem to be a neutral area, administered by the U.N.

And if we rewind about 900 years to the Crusades, I wonder which flags were flying in Jerusalem before and after the crusaders arrived…

Actually, that took way less time to do than I imagined it would (thanks Wikipedia!)

So here’s the flag for the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which lasted nearly 200 years:

And all I had to do to get the flag for the previous owners of Jerusalem was to click that link, which took me to this:


Fascinating stuff… But let’s get back to the present — and to Ben’s question of which flag would be flying in Jerusalem… I just did a Google image search for “palestinian flag in jerusalem”

and I found this very interesting picture of Pope Benedict from Life Magazine.


This whole question of flags and nations reminds me that a fun 2-minute video Ben likes to listen to, called Nations of the World, lists most of the nations of the world (as of the time it was made, when the Soviet Union was all one entity).  Here’s a still from the video of Yakko Warner (it’s a WB video) pointing to Greenland:

He sings the nations to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance.  It’s really fun to watch.  Go ahead, click the link and watch it — it will open in a new window and then you can come back…

Did you notice that the “Nations of the World” video includes both Israel and Palestine as nations?  The video ends with “Malta and Palestine, Fiji, Australia, Sudan.”

So who decides what constitutes a nation?  It’s not Yakko Warner (he calls “Caribbean” a nation, too, in order to preserve the rhyme scheme).  Is Palestine a legitimate nation?  Is Israel a legitimate nation?  It depends who you ask…

And what do I tell Ben about what flag flies in Jerusalem?  I think I tell him “Israel” for now, but when he gets old enough (and how old is that?), I need to explain to him that the world is a complicated place and then I need to try to explain the situation with Palestine and Israel.

I can’t help wonder what a Saudi Arabian father would tell his three-year old son about what flag flies over Jerusalem…

Indeed, the world is a complicated place.  At least there’s not any controversy over whether it’s legal to burn an American flag

Oh, and just in case you don’t have time to click that link, my last line is sarcastic — the First Amendment flag burning cases at the Supreme Court were very close 5-4 decisions and remain quite controversial.  Flags matter.


About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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