A group of activists handed out flowers to Arab shopkeepers in Jerusalem’s Old City on Wednesday ahead of the annual parade of tens of thousands of Jews marching through the Muslim Quarter to mark the reunification of the city.
Spearheaded by the Tag Meir organization, who described it as an “alternative march,” dozens of Israelis from across the country were joined by visitors from the US, Canada and the UK as they walked through the Old City handing out flowers as a peace gesture.
On Thursday, the group was scheduled to meet at Damascus Gate for an event titled “cleaning and hugging.” Afterward, they planned to drink coffee with the Arab storekeepers and discuss peace and coexistence.
Storekeepers in the Muslim Quarter had been instructed by police to shutter their stores Wednesday as marchers entered the gates and paraded through all sectors of the city.
— The IMEU (@theIMEU) May 24, 2017
More than 50 Jewish shopkeepers in West Jerusalem also closed their stores during the march in solidarity with the Arab residents. They hung signs outside on the windows announcing in advance stating their intention to close in solidarity.
Although there were no reports of violence during the parade, there had been 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 mainly 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.”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “several hundred” police officers were deployed to keep the peace.
This year, 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.
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.
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.
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.