Court rejects petition to keep marchers out of Muslim Quarter

Jerusalem Day revelers will be allowed to go through Arab area, but under strict time limits out of respect for Ramadan

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: Thousands of Israeli wave the national flag as they celebrate Jerusalem Day, dancing and marching their way through Damascus Gate to the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 17, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Thousands of Israeli wave the national flag as they celebrate Jerusalem Day, dancing and marching their way through Damascus Gate to the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 17, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice on Sunday rejected a petition to keep the annual Jerusalem Day parade out of the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, but set strict time limits on the march to ensure participants were out of the area before the probable start of Ramadan.

As it has done in previous years, the left-wing Ir Amim group asked the court to reject outright the permits granted by police for celebrants to hold the “flag dance” parade in the Muslim area and force a change of route. In the past, the event has been marred by racist anti-Arab chants and clashes.

Hundreds of police officers were deployed Sunday throughout the capital ahead of the Jerusalem Day celebrations, which commemorate the capture of the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War.

This year’s Jerusalem Day also comes just ahead of the month-long Ramadan fast and hundreds of Muslim worshipers were also slated to be in the area on Sunday evening, raising fears of clashes between the two groups.

In a bid to prevent such violence, the High Court of Justice decided to allow Jewish revelers to enter the Muslim Quarter through the Damascus Gate only between the hours of 5:15 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. After that point, police are required to prevent more marchers from entering through there.

The marchers must also begin exiting the Muslim Quarter by 7 p.m. and must completely clear the area by 7:30 p.m., according to the court’s decision. This year Ramadan begins at 7:43 p.m., according to the Muslim lunar calendar, though officials will only set the start time later this evening.

Eitay Mack, who represented Ir Amim, expressed doubt concerning the ability of police to enforce such a law, criticizing the decision by police and organizers to send fewer officers and ushers, respectively, to oversee the parade this year.

According to Mack, this year organizers will provide 150 ushers, half of the number sent last year. Some 1,200 police officers will be in the Old City to oversee the march, according to Jerusalem Police Chief Yoram Halevy.

“Where did 150 ushers go? Last year there were 300 ushers and we’ve also brought down the number of police officers,” Mack said, scoffing at the claim by police and organizers that this year the march would be better prepared.

According to the court, however, the groups organizing the event will provide 400 ushers.

“There’s an attempt here, in my opinion, to mislead [the judges],” he said. “They can’t know when the last marcher will leave the Muslim Quarter for the Western Wall and they cannot provide the security arrangements.”

To prove his point, Mack showed a video from the previous year in which offensive slogans were chanted by Jewish marchers against Arabs.

“We saw a video that was not pleasant to watch. It’s always possible to say it was edited and all that, but it’s not pleasant to watch,” Judge Elyakim Robinstein said in response to the video. “There are elements that are happening in a way that cannot be allowed to happen in the State of Israel at all.”

A representative of the Ir Amim organization, Amir Cheshin, questioned the reason for the march passing through the controversial Damascus Gate when there are “so many gates” that could be used instead.

“These populations do not love one another — and that’s an understatement — so why increase the friction?” Cheshin asked the judges.

During the hearing Halevy, the police chief, told the judges that police would not only enforce the hours of the march but also restrict the size of the flags permitted to marchers, which apparently in the past were used to vandalize shops in the Muslim Quarter.

In response to the court decision, Ir Amim said: “The court recognized the obligation of the state to more seriously address the proximity to Ramadan and the location of the march. With that, the court could have taken the additional necessary step and allowed the Muslim Quarter residents to prepare as necessary for the start of the month of Ramadan, as Jews would want to prepare for their festivals.”

On Sunday morning, 761 non-Muslim visitors went up to the Temple Mount, 566 of them foreign tourists, according to police.

Three Jewish visitors were ejected from the site after they “violated the visitation rules,” which most likely means they prayed at the holy site, despite being forbidden to do so. Another Jewish man was also detained for attacking a police officer. In addition, two Muslim women were detained after they “called out” during the visit, police said.

Thousands of Israelis were at the Western Wall on Sunday morning, according to police.

Police vowed there would be “zero tolerance” for violence during this year’s parade.

“Jerusalem is celebrating; this march is appropriate,” Mayor Nir Barkat told Army Radio. “On the face of it, I don’t think there will be any problems — this route for the flag parade has been in place for years.”

In 2014, flag-carrying Israelis were filmed skirmishing with Palestinians at Damascus Gate. On nearby Salah al-Din Street, Palestinians stoned an Egged bus, injuring seven Israelis. The previous year, similar disturbances led to the arrest of 23 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

While the flag dance passes through the main streets of the Muslim Quarter, a police-enforced curfew prevents Arab residents from leaving their homes.

Streets in downtown Jerusalem were set to be closed to traffic beginning at 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. Public transportation was running, but delays were expected throughout the capital.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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