DAMASCUS GATE, Jerusalem — Despite a Supreme Court warning last week regarding the need for police to deal harshly with racist slogans at the annual Jerusalem Day flag march, verbal and physical violence abounded in and around the Muslim Quarter of the Old City on Sunday.
Tens of thousands of Israeli Jews flock to the Old City of Jerusalem every year on the 28th day of Iyar to mark the “reunification” of the capital under Israeli sovereignty in the 1967 Six Day War. But recurrent nationalistic violence at the annual march — as it passes through the Old City — has recently drawn criticism from both Israeli activists and the judiciary.
At around 6 p.m. on Sunday, Palestinian television crews were physically assaulted and chased by a mob of Jewish teenagers outside Damascus Gate, chanting “The eternal people are not scared of a long journey.”
The youth draped the female journalists in large Israeli flags as they sang “Let us take revenge on Palestine, may its name be damned.” At the other side of the Damascus Gate plaza, Israeli Border Police served as a buffer between a small group of Palestinians waving flags and chanting nationalistic slogans, and hundreds of Jewish celebrants dancing in circles. The two groups hurled plastic bottles and wooden sticks at each other.
On May 11, a panel of three Supreme Court judges dismissed an appeal by Jerusalem-based NGO Ir Amim and Gadi Gvaryahu, director of the anti-racism group Tag Meir, calling on the city’s police department and the municipality to prevent the annual march from passing through the Muslim Quarter.
“It is not with a light heart that we dismiss this appeal,” wrote the panel, headed by Deputy Chief Justice Elyakim Rubinstein. “There is room for zero tolerance toward violent rioters, both verbally or physically, be they who they may.”
The judges expressed “displeasure” with the fact that although violent revelers were arrested and held for questioning last year, no indictments were served.
Standing outside a Palestinian clothing shop in the Muslim Quarter, Muhammad al-Dabbagh was arguing with an Israeli policeman who had asked his friend to shutter his shop ahead of the arrival of the Jewish masses. Last week, Jerusalem police distributed pamphlets in Arabic asking Palestinian vendors in the Muslim Quarter to close their shops by 5 p.m. and remove their merchandise from the alleyways by 4 p.m.
“On Jerusalem Day, May 17, pedestrian traffic will be different than usual, as tens of thousands of citizens march through the Old City towards the Western Wall,” the communique read. “We ask merchants on al-Wad Street to close their shops at 5 p.m. (non-obligatory), in order to prevent excessive friction on this day.”
But Dabbagh, an employee of the Jordanian Waqf’s renovation committee at al-Aqsa Mosque, said he has been encouraging his friends to keep their shops open in defiance of police guidelines.
“They shouldn’t be afraid of anyone,” he told The Times of Israel. “There is no law in the world that can cause merchants to shut their shops on a day like this. On the contrary, the police should protect them and leave the city open if it is indeed a city of peace, a city of all its religions.”
Last year, Dabbagh recalled, he was cleaning a nearby mosque when a group of Jewish revelers arrived with sticks and began cursing the Prophet Muhammad in Hebrew.
“Since I understand Hebrew, I cursed them back,” he said. “I expected the police at least to stop them. To my surprise, they didn’t.”
Racist slogans in Hebrew again rang out loud and clear across the Damascus Gate plaza as evening fell on Sunday. A young teenager from a religious school in Ma’ale Adumim chanted “May your village burn,” before his teacher interrupted him for the communal afternoon prayers.
Another youngster, with earlocks and a T-shirt, was distributing pamphlets that read, “In honor of Jerusalem Day, we all demand that the Israeli government remove the mosques from the Temple Mount, so that we may build the temple and renew the sacrifices.”
Standing to the side, Vlad, a 20-year-old civil service volunteer from the northeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev, was wearing a purple T-shirt that read “Jews, let’s win!” which he said he had bought downtown for NIS 20 ($5). He said the anti-Arab slogans were “nonsense” that “everyone just ignored.
“I came here to enjoy, along with people from all over the country, celebrating the 48th anniversary of the city’s unification,” he said. “All Israelis want to live in Jerusalem.”