Thousands of religious nationalists in Israel marched through Muslim parts of Jerusalem’s Old City, sparking an outbreak of violence at the same event last year that sparked an 11-day war between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement in Gaza.
The annual Flag Parade, in which religious nationalists enter the highly symbolic Pillar Gate and walk through the Muslim Quarter carrying Israeli flags, is held at sunset on what is known as Jerusalem Day, the celebration of the capture and annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967. The war, an unacknowledged move them internationally.
Palestinians view the march through the busy Muslim Street, which was often accompanied by violence, as highly provocative. The decision to move forward despite the latest wave of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories on Sunday drew criticism from both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and neighboring Jordan, which remains the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and has warned of more violence that could ensue.
Crowds, mostly orthodox Jewish men, began to gather at Bab al-Amud around 3 p.m., singing and dancing. As the afternoon progressed and their numbers increased, local Palestinians began withdrawing from public places and closing their shops.
When protesters tried to enter the narrow streets of the Muslim Quarter, several quarrels broke out: both sides threw glass bottles, and the Israeli police broke up the fighting using tear gas, rubber bullets and batons.
A Haredi man spat at and attacked an elderly Muslim woman, and protesters jeered when the Palestine Red Crescent attempted to evacuate an injured Palestinian among the crowds. Emergency services said 15 people were shot by Israeli police, including four who required hospital treatment.
As the afternoon call to prayer began, the crowd began chanting “Death to the Arabs” as they banged sticks and flag poles on the metal doors of Palestinian shops and restaurants. Israeli media estimated that 25,000 people were present.
This year’s march of the flag comes at a particularly tense time: Over the past two months, Israel has suffered its worst wave of terrorist attacks in years, killing 19 people, while IDF retaliatory attacks have been in occupied East Jerusalem and Palestine. In the West Bank, about 35 Palestinians were killed, including Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Oqla.
The accompanying clashes between the Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators were accompanied, resulting in the injury of hundreds of people on the Temple Mount, which he calls the Temple Mount, sacred to Muslims and Jews alike.
“It wasn’t like that last year [Israelis] “People from the US and UK can come and go but I can’t even though I was born here,” said the owner of the restaurant, Nidal Hajjar, who was not allowed by the soldiers to walk into the Muslim neighborhood.” “People from the US and UK can come and go but I can’t even though I was born here,” said the 65-year-old. But it’s worse today.”
About 3,000 Israeli police were deployed across Jerusalem on Sunday and snipers patrolled the Bab al-Amud towers. According to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the Israeli army is on high alert in the occupied Palestinian territories and has adjusted its deployment of anti-missile batteries in anticipation of the possibility of launching rockets from Gaza and Lebanon.
“We are here every day, but today is especially important because it symbolizes everything that is life in Israel,” said Yael Mishan, 28, an Israeli settler who lives in occupied East Jerusalem with her husband and their three young children. We are grateful to the military and police for protecting us. If someone is afraid of violence today, it should be him, not us.”
Last Sunday, about 2,600 Jewish pilgrims visited the Temple Mount with the Israeli police, a much larger number than usual.
The visit prompted about 40 Palestinians who barricaded themselves inside the mosque at night to throw stones and fireworks. The occupation police said in a statement that they closed the gates of the building and made several arrests before the situation calmed down at noon.
Unofficially, Jews are allowed to visit the site but not pray. But in recent years, an increasing number of Jewish visitors, sometimes arriving or accompanied by police, has raised long-standing Palestinian fears that Israel is planning to annex the area. Israel says it is determined to maintain the status quo and accuses Hamas of instigating the latest violence.
Last year, amid weeks of unrest in Jerusalem, the Israeli government changed the course of the flag march at the last minute to avoid the Muslim Quarter, but that was not enough to prevent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians on the Temple Mount. And the violence in the holy place led to Hamas firing a barrage of rockets into Jerusalem, which ignited the war last May.
Despite calls by some allies in his coalition to cancel the march or change its course this year, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett decided to allow the parade as planned, saying: “Raising the flag of Israel in the capital of Israel is an obvious thing to do.”
A Hamas spokesman praised what they described as the “great heroism” the Palestinians demonstrated at Al-Aqsa on Sunday, but the movement appears to be wary of engaging Israel in another round of fighting as it comes after last year’s war to rebuild and preserve the battles of the besieged Gaza Strip. The shattered economy is afloat.