Glastonbury’s battle of the flags

The famous festival was marred by widespread support for Hamas… until revellers raised the Nova banner


Liahav Eitan and his Nova flags at the Other Stage, Glastonbury

The sun is rising over Worthy Farm and I’m stumbling around the southeast corner deciding where to spend the last few songs of Glastonbury. Drum and bass, techno, or a brass band.

I’m in a hazy state when I spot the keffiyeh-clad DJs grinding on stage with a Palestinian flag wrapped over the decks. Around me are posters of peace doves and the slogan “resistance by any means necessary”. This is Shangri-La, an area of the festival with a history of celebrating under-represented artists.

Above the revellers, a huge installation in memory of the Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer takes centre stage. Inspired by Alareer’s poem, “If I Must Die,” large eyes emblazoned on keffiyehs stare down.

In the darkness, a description informs onlookers that Alareer was killed by an Israeli airstrike and the sculpture's eyes “embody the ongoing resistance of the Palestinian people... and hope that the tale of the kites inspires them to join the growing resistance”.

I think of the kites that the residents of Kibbutz Kfar Aza were making for their peace protest – kites that were left scattered in bloodied bedrooms on October 7. I recall how the poet Alareer responded to the now debunked claim that Hamas cooked a baby in an oven with the quip, "with or without baking powder". The explanatory board left that bit out of the story.

Nearby, a game called the Devil’s Derby charged £3 a pop to send a dictator to their death. With a choice of Suella Braverman, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump or Benjamin Netanyahu, the definition of dictator seemed somewhat loose.

A short stumble away at NYC Downlow, a gay club in the site’s bloc-9 section, naked dancers dressed as butchers were performing in front of a menu offering brisket and bratwurst. Two magen davids appear to have been scrubbed off the club’s faux meat-market signage. This didn’t hamper Jewish pop star Jessie Ware from her memorable cameo on stage among the BDSM dancers.

At another club, I am told there is a “space guardian” should I need it. The bouncer has a badge pinned to her high-vis jacket depicting a map of Israel and the West Bank as Palestine – from the river to the sea.

And yet, Glastonbury this year was not like London on a Saturday afternoon. Far fewer artists mentioned Gaza than I had expected and more flags displayed random jokes than references to Palestine. People were more interested in dancing than debating Israel, and for the first time in weeks, I didn't hear the word “Zionist” uttered once.

Coldplay’s Chris Martin asked the crowd to send “five seconds of Glastonbury love” to Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, "peaceful Russia” or Myanmar in one of the few times that a major act brought up the war.

Paloma Faith didn’t mention Gaza, but she and each member of her band wore the “Artists for Ceasefire” pin badge. The red hands on the badge, reminiscent of the bloodied hands that took the lives of Yosef Avrahami and Vadim Norzhich, glistened in the sunlight.

During Jenelle Monae’s set, she shared a message of gay pride and added, “I am proud to stand with you as you fight back against genocide.” Met with adoration by cheering fans, Monae’s use of the word “genocide” spurred on the crowd. For a group so concerned with language, the word “genocide” is used awfully casually.

Blur and Gorillaz frontman, Damon Albarn, meanwhile, used his Bombay Bicycle Club appearance to tell the crowd to show him how they felt about Palestine, “Are you pro-Palestine?” he asked, “Do you feel that’s an unfair war?”

Irish hip-hop trio Kneecap parroted Hamas’s figures about dead Palestinian children on to a projection: "Over 20,000 children have been murdered by Israel in 9 months”. The number is so high that even Hamas has revised it down. Later the group led a “Free Palestine” chant.

As the heavily fortified gates of the farm emerged, the first flag to greet me was the Palestinian one, protruding over a field of tents – but this is true of almost any wall in London.

But only one of the performances I saw was flooded with the flag. PJ Harvey – or rather PA Harvey, as she should have been styled – was barely visible but for the red, white, black and green fabric. Flicking through snaps of friends, the flag can be seen in the corner of most shots.

When tickets for Glastonbury came out in November, I was still reeling from October 7 and the slaughter of over 360 people at the Nova Festival. Nine months later, the fear that the festival would be a giant university encampment-style experience evaporated the moment I saw the flags honouring Nova.

While none of the acts mentioned the massacre, the flags raised above the crowd during numerous Pyramid stage sets made Jews around the world swell with pride.

The flag bearers – Matt, and married couple Liahav and Efi Eitan – were unknown to each other before the festival. Each brought the Nova flag “to honour the victims.”

“While I was physically at Glastonbury, my heart and my thoughts were with the Nova community, and every last dance was dedicated to them,” software engineer, Liahav, 33, said.

As Dua Lipa performed her headline set, the Nova flag practically draped her and featured prominently on BBC coverage, as well as her Instagram page to her 88 million followers.

Matt (who does not want his last name printed) said, “We didn’t know what to expect when we brought the flag, but the response was phenomenal. There was so much love. We must have met over 100 people that came up to us. Every time we thought we had met every Jew at Glasto, another one came up to us.

“I had strangers coming up and hugging me, saying ‘I’ve seen it, I want to say thank you, it’s made me so proud’,” Matt went on.

Liahav added, “We couldn't walk five minutes without someone stopping to give us a hug, thank us for carrying the flags, take pictures with us, dance with us, cry with us in their memory.

“People told us it gave them hope in a sea of Palestinian flags and stickers. The flag became a beacon of light that connected people and touched their souls,” Matt went on.

“We were flying it for the people who lost their lives and their families, for all of us. It gave me hope and we gave hope globally because people have seen it around the world,” Matt said.

Matt and his girlfriend Tarryn didn’t receive any negativity from the flag, but Liahav and Efi fell out with their friends when they flew theirs above their tent. Their campaigning neighbours asked them to take the Nova flag down out of fear that their tents would be vandalised.

"When I refused, they decorated their tents with some Palestinian merch, including a ‘boycott Israeli apartheid’ sticker," Liahav said.

"From that point on, some people in the group completely shunned me and my wife Efi, while others made a point of being extra-nice to us, for which I'm grateful.” The support the couple received made the experience worth it.

People in Nova festival T-shirts and #bringthemhomenow bracelets approached the flag bearers. One woman wrote "free the hostages" over her chest in lipstick and danced around with an Israeli flag draped over her shoulders.

“Waking up every morning to see the ‘boycott Israeli apartheid’ being reinforced with more and more glue in front of my face, I couldn't help but smile, think of all the love I've received at the festival, and really feel the meaning of ‘our love is stronger than their hate’," Liahav said.

Another Jewish festival goer who wished to remain anonymous said he “felt a sense of relief when I saw the Nova flag – my pride in their bravery made me feel emotional – that there were people there trying to create a safe space for a different kind of festival.”

He saw more Arsenal shirts than keffiyehs and was surprised at how little commentary there was from the stage.

A few discussions broached the subject. Pro-peace charity, Yachad, hosted a talk with Israeli peace activist, Maoz Inon, whose parents were killed on October 7, and Palestinian peace activist Hamze Awawde.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism complained about Awawde’s inclusion but was met with derision from Yachad’s director of communications, Danielle Bett, who said “We’ve never needed peace activists in Israel-Palestine more than we do now. Shame on those who try to silence peace activists.”

One Jewish attendee of the session described it as “the most balanced narrative I have heard in the last nine months. Hearing a Palestinian and an Israeli talk about humanity – they all had very strong opinions – they realised that tribalism is not the answer. We have to find humanity and we have to talk.”

Glastonbury was the first weekend since October 7 when the war wasn't at the forefront of my mind. Escapism is why people flock to Worthy Farm. While important discussions and grassroots activism can make an impact on a stage watched by the world, for the attendees, it is a space for revelling.

As dawn approached—the same moment when Nova was attacked—I danced and embraced my friends, intoxicated by the joy of being alive. Our right to celebrate has never felt more vital. Glastonbury, with its Healing Fields, music, and boundless freedom, represents everything we must safeguard and everything terrorists sought to destroy on October 7. As the Nova flag defiantly says, "We will dance again."

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