Tens of thousands of people marched around the Old City waving flags and singing at the annual Jerusalem Day parade on Wednesday, to celebrate 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War.
There were fears of unrest ahead of the march, with a much larger than usual participation due to the special anniversary, and also the fact that for the first time, police gave permission for the parade of mainly Jewish Israelis to walk around the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, through the Arab neighborhoods in the east of the city.
The march has been marred by violence and racist chants against Arabs in recent years and police warned Tuesday that they would have “no tolerance for physical or verbal violence.”
This year, delegations from around the world participated in the annual parade, known as the Jerusalem Day Flag March. Led by predominantly religious Zionist teenagers decked in white and blue, the colors of the Israeli flag, groups from around the world sang and danced in colorful costumes as they marched from the center of the new city to the Old City.
Border police secure old city of Jerusalem as celebrations continue this evening. Police units carrying out security measures on the ground pic.twitter.com/SsWgaWgS8M
— Micky Rosenfeld (@MickyRosenfeld) May 24, 2017
Wednesday’s celebration of Jerusalem Day marked 50 years since the reunification of the city in 1967, according to the Hebrew calendar.
According to the Western calendar, Israeli paratroopers advanced through the Old City and took the Temple Mount and Western Wall — Judaism’s most venerated sites — on June 7, 1967.
Jews had been banned from visiting these sites, under Jordanian rule, since 1948.
More than 80,000 people took part in the Jerusalem Day event, culminating in celebrations at the Western Wall, police said, up from between 30,000 to 40,000 in previous years.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “several hundred” police officers were deployed to keep the peace.
Storekeepers in the Muslim Quarter were told by police to shutter their stores as marchers entered the gates and paraded through all sectors of the city.
The official parade was mainly scheduled to go around the Old City, and to enter through Dung Gate, adjacent to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter. However, hundreds of other marchers entered through other gates, proceeding through the Muslim Quarter to get to the Western Wall plaza.
Clashes broke out at the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City ahead of the march as police dispersed Palestinian, Israeli and American protesters attempting to block the path of the marchers.
Hossam, a Palestinian teenager who did not want to give his surname, said he was worried the marchers would storm the Temple Mount, the flash point holy site of the ancient Jewish temples that holds the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“We are here to protect Al-Aqsa. They want to storm Al-Aqsa and we must stop them,” he said.
Earlier on Wednesday around 10 Jews were arrested for attempting to pray on the Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam.
Jews are allowed to visit but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions.
After Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, it annexed it and declared Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel. However, the move has not been recognized by the international community.
This was highlighted by the visit on Monday and Tuesday by US President Donald Trump, who made the first visit the Western Wall by a sitting president, but insisted the outing was private. He did not acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or announce the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as many in Israel had hoped.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Wednesday that the Temple Mount would remain under Israeli control “forever.” Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state. The future status of Jerusalem is among the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.