Ben Lynfield & Quique Kierszenbaum
The Guardian / May 18, 2023
‘Death to the Arabs’ chanted by some of the thousands celebrating capture of Old City in 1967 as three journalists wounded.
Thousands of Israeli nationalists, some of them chanting racist slogans, have paraded through Jerusalem’s Old City in an annual celebratory day for Israelis that became one of humiliation for Palestinians living under occupation.
The marchers, mostly male Orthodox teens and young men, were celebrating Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967. The crowd waved blue and white Israeli flags and chanted slogans such as “Death to the Arabs [Palestinians]” and “We will burn your village”.
Authorities barred Palestinians from going through most of the gates into the Old City.
One group of marchers threw rocks and bottles at members of the press covering the event, wounding three journalists, including a Palestinian reporter for Haaretz, who was struck in the neck, the paper’s website reported.
Police said they had arrested two people and described the attack as an “isolated incident”.
Ibrahim Hamad, 28, a Palestinian freelance journalist who was covering events at Damascus Gate, said the attack was unprovoked. “We were standing here as journalists and there were also some women wearing hijabs near us. Groups of extremist Zionists started throwing glass bottles and sticks,” he said.
“I believe they were trying to stop us from showing what they are doing.”
Palestinian community leader Fakhri Abu Diab was outside al-Aqsa mosque giving a telephone interview with Israel’s Ynet news when four police officers approached him. One grabbed his phone and throw it on the ground, breaking it, he said. He was then forced out of the mosque compound, held at a street corner for an hour and a half, and told not to return to the Old City.
“This is the Israeli police. We are facing apartheid,” he said.
Ynet news editor Nir Cohen criticized the police behaviour. “In the middle of an interview, a policeman arrives and throws his phone away just for the sake of it, with no apparent reason.” A police spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers it part of its “eternal undivided capital”. Palestinians view East Jerusalem as their future capital.
The ‘Flag March’ reflects a far-right ideology embraced by key government ministers, including the anti-Arab extremist minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who joined the marchers.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called the event “a splendid day on which to celebrate our return to our eternal capital”.
But Abu Diab called Jerusalem Day “a bad day, the day they occupied us. It’s a catastrophe for us.”
Ben Lynfield is a journalist based in Jerusalem
Quique Kierszenbaum in Jerusalem
Israeli crowds chant racist slogans, taunt Palestinians during Jerusalem march
Ilan Ben Zion
AP / May 18, 2023
JERUSALEM – Thousands of Jewish nationalists, some of them chanting “Death to the Arabs [Palestinians]” and other racist slogans, paraded on Thursday through the main Palestinian thoroughfare of Jerusalem’s Old City, in an annual display that caused new friction between Jews and Palestinians in the tense city.
The marchers, who were overwhelmingly male Orthodox teens and young men, were celebrating “Jerusalem Day,” which marks Israel’s capture of the Old City 56 years ago. The Palestinians see the event as a provocation. Two years ago, the parade helped fuel an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
Throughout the afternoon, dozens of groups hoisting blue and white Israeli flags streamed through Damascus Gate – the entry to the area’s Muslim Quarter – as they made their way across the Old City to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray. The area is normally bustling on Thursday afternoons with Palestinians doing their errands ahead of the weekend.
The boisterous crowds danced and chanted Jewish religious songs outside Damascus Gate as scores of Israeli police stood guard. In several cases, groups chanted slogans such as “Death to the Arabs,” “Mohammed is Dead” and “May Your Village Burn” as they stared at Palestinian onlookers. Some of the youths wore clothing identifying themselves as members of Lehava – a far-right Jewish supremacist group that opposes assimilation or romantic relationships between Jews and Palestinians.
Israeli police, who had said that violence and incitement would not be tolerated, kept the sides apart but did little to stop the chants. Palestinian businesses were either shuttered or empty, and marchers occasionally threw water bottles at nearby journalists, eliciting cheers from the crowd. Police said two people were arrested for throwing objects.
Several lawmakers in Israel’s new far-right governing coalition, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, joined the procession. Under heavy police guard, Ben-Gvir waved to the crowd as he made his way into Damascus Gate and then high-fived security forces inside. Ben-Gvir, who oversees the nation’s police force, is a former far-right activist and hard-line West Bank Jewish settler who has been convicted of incitement and support for a Jewish terror group.
While there were repeated scuffles and confrontations between Jews and Palestinians, the parade appeared to pass without serious violence. By nightfall, the massive crowd had converged in the plaza in front of the Western Wall.
Jerusalem Day is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites, in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its capital, but its annexation of east Jerusalem is not internationally recognized. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
The event has been a source of friction over the years, and over 2,500 police were deployed for this year’s parade, with hundreds more stationed around the city.
Israel decided to allow the marchers to take the traditional route through Damascus Gate, instead of an alternate path circumventing the Muslim Quarter, despite an uptick in Israeli-Palestinian violence over the past year and heavy fighting last week between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Ahead of the march, Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group called on Palestinians to oppose the event.
On Thursday, dozens of Palestinian protesters gathered along the perimeter fence separating Gaza and Israel, raising Palestinian flags, burning tires and Israeli flags, and throwing stones toward the heavily guarded frontier.
Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets toward protesters, hurting three people, according to local media reports. There was no immediate comment from Gaza’s health authorities.
The protest ended without further violence that could have threatened a flare-up. It comes days after an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ended five days of fighting between Israel and the smaller, more radical Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for the Palestinian president in the occupied West Bank, said allowing the march to snake through Palestinian areas of the Old City “will only lead to a rise in tension and could lead to an explosion.”
In a test ahead of the parade, nearly 1,300 Jews visited Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site earlier Thursday, about half the number of last year, according to Beyadenu, an activist group that promotes Jewish visits to the site. Police were seen escorting groups of Jewish visitors walking through the compound and five members of the far-right coalition government also arrived at the site, the group said.
Jordan, Israel’s neighbor which acts as a custodian of the Jerusalem shrine, condemned the Jewish visits there and the trajectory of the march. Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, which established ties with Israel as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords, also condemned the visits to the site.
The hilltop compound is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, home to the ancient Jewish Temples, and is the holiest site in Judaism. Palestinians revere it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is home to Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
Under longstanding agreements, Jews are permitted to visit the site but not pray there. But an increase in such visits, along with scenes of some Jews quietly praying, has raised concerns among Palestinians that Israel is trying to alter the status quo — a charge Israel denies.
The competing claims to the site lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and often spill over into violence, including a 2021 war between Israel and Hamas.
AP correspondents Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, and Jack Jeffery in Cairo contributed to this report
Israel’s ‘Flag March’ in Jerusalem rattles Palestinians
Reuters / May 18, 2023
JERUSALEM – Tens of thousands of Israeli nationalists marched through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s walled Old City under heavy security on Thursday in an annual event that drew condemnation from Palestinians.
The parade is the main celebration on Jerusalem Day, when Israel marks its capture of Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. The event has become a show of force for Jewish nationalists and, for Palestinians, a blatant provocation meant to undermine their ties to the city.
Despite fears the event could spark a renewed violence following days of cross-border fire with Palestinian militant fighters in Gaza last week, the march ended with no major security incidents.
During the afternoon, rowdy crowds of Jewish youth danced and chanted, and there were heated confrontations, with shouts of “Death to the Arabs [Palestinians]” and other slogans. A number of journalists covering the event were attacked by marchers.
As the march ended in a mass gathering in front of the Western Wall, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered the march to go ahead despite security concerns. “Jerusalem will stay united forever,” he said.
Around 2,500 officers were assigned to the march to keep it peaceful, according to police who prepared for all scenarios, including violence and anti-Palestinian chants by some marchers toward Palestinians.
As crowds gathered at the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City during the afternoon at the start of the march, a handful of flags belonging to Lehava, a far-right anti-Palestinian group, could be seen among the mass of blue and white Israeli national flags.
Many Palestinian shopkeepers shuttered their businesses in the Old City, where march organizers hung Israeli flags along the narrow alleyways.
Earlier on Thursday, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims, including members of parliament, toured Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City. The site, which Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary, is the third holiest in Islam and also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, a vestige of their faith’s two ancient temples.
The visits passed without incident, but Palestinians have been angered by the rising number of Jewish visitors to the compound, some of whom defy a ban on non-Muslim prayer there.
Jordan, which has a custodial role over the Muslim and Christian holy sites of Jerusalem, condemned the visits as a provocation that risked escalating tensions.
Palestinians view the heavily policed Jerusalem Day procession as part of a broader campaign to bolster Jewish presence across the city to their detriment.
Israel, which decades ago annexed East Jerusalem in a move that has not won international recognition, regards the entire city as its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem, the part captured by Israel in 1967, as the capital of a future state that would include the West Bank and Gaza.
“Jerusalem, with its Islamic and Christian sanctities, is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement.
Palestinians organized their own flag marches across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Palestinian Islamist-ruled Gaza on Thursday, with some processions only a few hundred metres away from the Israel-Gaza separation fence.
In Gaza, senior Hamas official Bassem Naim said the group was not interested in an escalation of conflict with Israel.
During the 2021 march, Hamas, the Islamist group that governs the blockaded coastal enclave, fired rockets into Israel that triggered an 11-day war which killed at least 250 Palestinians in Gaza and 13 people in Israel.
Last month, an Israeli police raid in Al-Aqsa compound drew rocket fire from groups in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.
Hamas has cast itself as a defender of Jerusalem’s Palestinians and Muslim holy sites in recent years. But with another round of fighting between Israel and Gaza militants ending only last week, in which 34 Palestinians and an Israeli were killed, the appetite for more hostilities appeared low.
Egypt, which mediated Saturday’s truce, spoke to Israeli and Palestinian factions ahead of the march in efforts to reduce tensions.
Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by Bernadette Baum