Kaleidoscope of flags marks Belfast’s sectarian fault lines

September 2, 2014
(The national flag of Scotland (C) flies amongst other flags in a street in East Belfast July 5, 2014. Horrified that Scotland might break up the United Kingdom by voting for independence this autumn, thousands of Northern Ireland loyalists are preparing to fight back using their favoured 17th century battle regalia: drums, flutes, banners and orange sashes. Photograph taken on July 5. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)

(The national flag of Scotland (C) flies amongst other flags in a street in East Belfast July 5, 2014. 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 sympathise 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.

“This display of loyalty and faith is embedded in the culture … It’s a century-old tradition.”

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.

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