Israel’s Bennett praises marchers despite violence and racism

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (Gil Cohen-Magen - Reuters)

The National  /  May 31, 2022

Tens of thousands of Israelis parade through Palestinian neighbourhood, and some chant ‘death to Arabs’.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has defended an annual march to mark Israel’s 1967 military capture of East Jerusalem — which was again marked by violence and anti-Palestinian racism.

Thousands of police forcibly cleared out Palestinians on Sunday to allow tens of thousands of Israelis to parade through a Palestinian neighbourhood, with some chanting “death to Arabs”.

Extremists then stormed the courtyard of Al-qsa Mosque in East Jerusalem.

Mr Bennett on Monday praised marchers, saying “except for an extremist group, whom we will deal with to the fullest extent of the law, those who celebrated yesterday did so in a very special, heart-lifting way”.

Last year, Israel changed the route at the last minute during a time of soaring tensions over violence at the holy site and attempts by settlers to remove dozens of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem.

Hamas fired rockets and the 11-day Gaza war ensued.

Israel avoided that scenario this year, with the parade taking its traditional route through the heart of the Muslim Quarter in the Old City.

But the march saw Israeli nationalists attacking Palestinians and journalists. Fights broke out along the route, as police mainly intervened to protect Jews and forcibly disperse Palestinians.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 62 Palestinians were wounded, including 23 who were taken to hospital. Israeli police said they arrested more than 60 suspects and five officers were wounded. The vast majority of those arrested appear to have been Palestinians, although police refused to provide a breakdown.

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.”

Lapid says Israeli-Saudi ties can happen

Meanwhile, Israel Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Monday that reaching a deal to normalize ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia will be “a long and cautious process”, but Israel believes it can happen.

Israel said it hopes to build on its 2020 US-brokered accords with four Muslim nations and establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, has conditioned any eventual normalization with Israel on the addressing of the Palestinians’ quest for statehood on territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Mr Lapid told Israel’s Army Radio: “We will not wake up one morning to a surprise, rather it will be a long and cautious process on both sides. There are security interests for both countries.

“We are working on this with the Americans, with some of our friends in the Gulf countries, in many different echelons. Egypt is of course a significant player.”