Lubna Masarwa & Huthifa Fayyad
Middle East Eye / May 29, 2022
Israelis beat and pepper-spray Palestinians as they march through the Old City’s Muslim quarter chanting ‘Muhammad is dead’.
Israeli ultra-nationalists and police forces attacked Palestinians on Sunday in occupied East Jerusalem as thousands chanted racist and Islamophobic slurs while participating in the controversial far-right “Flag March” through the Old City’s Muslim quarter.
At least 79 Palestinians were wounded in Jerusalem, including 28 who were hospitalized, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said. Injuries included wounds from rubber-coated steel bullets, beatings and pepper spray. A further 163 people were wounded in the West Bank, including 20 hit by live bullets.
The PRCS also reported that its medics were assaulted by police in the vicinity of Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate while they attempted to reach the wounded.
Footage posted online showed Jewish settlers assaulting and pepper-spraying a Palestinian woman in her 50s.
Aida Saidawi, an Old City resident and activist, was taken away for treatment after the attack, which led to scuffles between Palestinians and Israelis.
As she was being evacuated via the Damascus Gate, another Jewish settler pepper-sprayed a passer-by and a man was seen pointing a gun at the frantic crowds, another video showed. A police officer then intervened without making an arrest.
Saidawi later told Al-Jazeera Arabic that she was chanting pro-Palestinian slogans before the Israeli men attacked her.
Outside the ancient town, a Palestinian demonstration in Salah al-Din street was violently dispersed by Israeli forces. At least 56 people have been arrested, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club.
In the Shiekh Jarrah neighbourhood, north of the Old City, Palestinian homes and properties were attacked by a group of Jewish settlers, which then led to confrontations with residents.
At the same time, Palestinians rallied across the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip in solidarity with Jerusalem and against Israeli raids on al-Aqsa Mosque.
Israeli soldiers used live fire, rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades to disperse crowds in Nablus, Hebron/Al-Khalil, Al-Bireh, Jericho/Ariha, Tulkarm and other West Bank cities and towns.
‘We will stay here’
Speaking to Middle East Eye before the attack against her, Saidawi said the scene of Israelis storming al-Aqsa Mosque in the morning had pained her.
“We know Al-Aqsa is only for Muslims, and we will not let go of it no matter the price,” Saidawi said. “We will stay here, in our mosques, our streets, our homes.”
According to a police count, more than 2,600 Israeli far-right activists and settlers stormed al-Aqsa Mosque earlier on Sunday, performed group prayers and raised the Israeli flag, in violation of decades-old international agreements that stipulate only Muslims are allowed to pray at al-Aqsa.
After the raid, groups of flag-waving Israelis marched through the Old City before converging outside the Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances leading to al-Aqsa.
At around 6pm local time, tens of thousands of far-right Israelis began the Flag March, starting from the western section of Jerusalem and heading towards the Western Wall, where celebrations continued until late in the evening. According to Israeli police, 70,o00 people participated in the march.
A large section of them threaded the Old City in two groups through Jaffa Gate and Damascus Gate.
The Flag March, which is part of the “Jerusalem Day” holiday commemorating the occupation of the city in 1967, is a far-right parade associated with violence against Palestinians and the “display of incitement, Jewish dominance, and racism”, according to Israeli NGO Ir Amim.
On Sunday, Jewish settlers were heard saying “Muhammad is dead”, an Islamophobic slogan often chanted in such marches, as well as “Death to the Arabs” and “Shireen is dead”, referring to Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli soldiers on 11 May.
Palestinian shop owners in the Old City were forced to close their businesses by Israeli authorities ahead of the march, while residents of the Muslim quarter were asked to remain indoors and Jerusalemites were not allowed in.
Lubna Masarwa is a journalist and Middle East Eye’s Palestine and Israel bureau chief, based in Jerusalem
Huthifa Fayyad – Middle East Eye