Was there really a Star of David on Palestine’s official flag back in 1939? Nope.

Pro-Israeli social media users have been claiming, wrongly, that Palestine’s official flag before 1948 featured the Star of David, a Jewish symbol. The spread of this false information online has picked up momentum since the start of the latest round of conflict between Israel and Hamas in October 2023, which has inflamed questions about the history and geopolitics of the contested region. An image of the flag that has been circulating appeared under the entry for “Palestine” in a 1939 edition of the French dictionary Larousse. However, our team spoke to several historians who said that this flag was only ever used by the Zionist movement which wanted to start a Jewish state in Palestine.

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  • Pro-Israel social media users have been claiming that the Jewish symbol, the Star of David, was featured on Palestine’s flag long before the state of Israel was founded. This enables them to claim that there was always a strong Jewish presence in the contested region. As proof, these social media users have been sharing an image of a blue amd white flag published by the French dictionary Larousse in 1939.

  • However, our team spoke to several historians who said that this flag was not the official flag of Palestine. It was actually a flag used by Zionist movements which hoped to found a Jewish state in Palestine. 

  • Meanwhile, in the context of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, there has been a resurgence of criticism about how the nation of Israel was created in 1948. 

The fact check, in detail: 

Was there really a Star of David on the Palestinian flag in the 1930s? Since fighting broke out between Israel and Hamas on October 7, 2023, bringing new attention to the long-contested region, a number of pro-Israel social media users have claimed that Palestine’s official flag featured this symbol of Judaism at least a decade before Israel was founded in 1948. 

“Here’s the Palestinian flag in 1939. […] How can people still say that Israel is a coloniser?” wrote French publicist Frank Tapiro in an Instagram post from last November featuring the image of this blue and white flag decorated with the Star of David. 

This image was picked up in late December by X users who wanted to prove that Jewish people had a presence in Palestine before Israel’s founding in 1948. “The Palestinian flag prior to 1948. Enough said,” says this tweet from December 29 that has been viewed more than 200,000 times.

This tweet claims that this blue and white flag featuring the Star of David was the official flag of Palestine back in 1939, nearly a decade before Israel was founded.
This tweet claims that this blue and white flag featuring the Star of David was the official flag of Palestine back in 1939, nearly a decade before Israel was founded. © Twitter

Images of this flag were already circulating online years before conflict broke out between Israel and Hamas on October 7, 2023. For example, this Tiktok video, posted in English back in 2022, claims that this same flag used to be Palestine’s official emblem. It has since garnered more than eight million views. 

A flag ‘sometimes used by Zionists’

However, all of the historians contacted by our team said that this flag was never the official emblem of Palestine during the British mandate that lasted between 1920 and 1948. Historians interviewed by other media outlets, like Reuters, agreed. 

Back in 1939, Palestine was under British mandate and had been since 1920. This status – accorded by the League of Nations, the first global intergovernmental organisation and precursor to the United Nations – ended when the Jewish state was created in May 1948. 

“This flag was not the official flag of Palestine under mandate,” said Vincent Lemire, a professor of history at the University of Gustave-Eiffel in Champs-sur-Marne who specialises in the history of Jerusalem. 

“This flag was sometimes used by the Zionist movement to represent the future flag of the future Jewish state that they were calling for.” 

Henry Laurens, a historian who specialises in the Arab world and a professor at the Collège de France research institute, agreed. Laurens said that, while Palestine was under British mandate, its flag actually featured the colours of the United Kingdom.

This was the official flag of Palestine under British mandate.
This was the official flag of Palestine under British mandate. © Wikipedia

News agency Reuters also interviewed experts about this flag in late November. They spoke to Tamir Sorek, a historian at Penn State University, as well as Salim Tamari at the Institute of Palestine Studies. Sorek and Tamari agreed with our experts. 

“This flag appears to be an unofficial flag that sometimes appeared on Jewish-owned ships during the mandatory period when the official English name of the country was still Palestine,” Shay Hazkani, an associate professor at the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Program and Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, also told Reuters. 

A flag featured in the 1939 edition of the Larousse dictionary 

So where did this misinformation come from? While it is hard to determine the exact source, a number of social media users have used photos allegedly taken of an edition of the French dictionary Larousse from 1939, which wrongly presents that flag as the official flag of Palestine. 

Photos and videos of this edition of the dictionary have been shared since 2015 on different pro-Israeli sites and platforms, which use these archive images as “proof” that this flag was the official emblem of Palestine.

This is a screengrab of a video that was posted on Facebook in 2018 by a pro-Israeli web radio channel showing the 1939 edition of the illustrated Larousse featuring an image of the blue and white flag with the Star of David, presented as the official flag of Palestine.
This is a screengrab of a video that was posted on Facebook in 2018 by a pro-Israeli web radio channel showing the 1939 edition of the illustrated Larousse featuring an image of the blue and white flag with the Star of David, presented as the official flag of Palestine. © Facebook

So why did Larousse represent Palestine with this flag? Our team contacted Larousse, but they have not responded to our inquiries. 

Criticism of the legitimacy of the creation of the state of Israel

This flag and the claims that go with it have started circulating against a very specific backdrop. In light of the war between Hamas and Israel, people have been looking into the history of the region, which frames the current conflict. Some people have stated to criticise how the state of Israel was created back in 1948. 

As we mentioned, in 1920 – shortly after World War I – a British mandate was imposed on Palestine. This ended when Israel was created in May 1948. 

During the era between the two world wars, the Jewish population in Palestine increased. The Zionist movement, created in the 19th century by Theodor Herzl, aimed to create a Jewish state in Palestine and inspired a wave of Jewish immigration, especially from Eastern Europe. By 1939, Jews represented a third of the total population of Palestine, according to numbers reported by the British authorities at the time.

Unlike today, the name “Palestine” was once used by both Jewish and Arab communities. 

“This name didn’t have a specific connotation at the time,” said Vincent Lemire. The word took on new significance when Israel was created in 1948 and 750,000 Palestinians were kicked out of the territory, losing their historic homeland. 

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