Israel defends decision to hold march marked by racism and violence

Arpan Rai

The Independent  /  May 30, 2022

Marchers chanted ‘death to the Arabs’.

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett has defended the decision to hold an annual march which celebrates his country’s takeover of East Jerusalem, after this year’s proceedings were marked by violence and anti-Palestinian racism.

Thousands of police officers forcibly cleared out Palestinians from the centre of Jerusalem’s Old City to ensure that tens of thousands of mostly ultra-nationalist Israelis could parade through the streets. Chants of “death to the Arabs” could be heard among some attendees.

The march was allowed to proceed on its traditional route through the heart of the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. During the march, Palestinians and journalists were attacked.

Fights also broke out along the route. The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said 62 Palestinians were wounded, including 23 who needed hospitalization. Israeli police said they arrested over 60 suspects and that five officers were wounded.

The vast majority of those arrested appear to have been Palestinians, though police refused to provide a breakdown.

Despite this, Mr Bennett praised the police’s handling of the event and said Israel was obliged to hold the march in the face of threats by Hamas.

“If we hadn’t done it along the regular route, we would – in effect – never go back to it,” he said. “This could have been a retreat on sovereignty.”

Led by young Orthodox Jewish men, the demonstration gathered outside Damascus Gate and shouted chants such as “let your village burn down” before entering the Muslim Quarter on Sunday.

Many waved flags during the march, held on Jerusalem Day. Israelis celebrate the holiday to commemorate the capture of the Old City in 1967 war. The march was condemned by Palestinians and neighbouring Jordan.

A drone flying a Palestinian flag was also spotted flying overhead at one point.

Israel regards the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, something rejected by Palestinians and most nations.

Tensions are rising once again in the region. Earlier this month, Israeli police officers were seen beating mourners at Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral, drawing heavy international criticism.

Abu Akleh was shot in the head as she tried to report on an Israeli raid in the city of Jenin, in the occupied West Bank, on 11 May.

An investigation by the Palestinian Authority concluded last week that Israeli military deliberately shot and killed her. Israel has denied it is responsible for her death.

Arpan Rai – news reporter

Additional reporting by agencies